Freeport, Grand Bahamas February 2013

Off we go to Freeport, Grand Bahamas for a little winter R&R. Along with the four of us was two of friends that do a lot of traveling with us. I had only been to the island of Exuma several years ago and really enjoyed it so I was really looking forward to seeing what Freeport had to offer.

We meant up with Doc and Troya at the Island Seas Resort where we’d all be staying. On their arrival late that morning they were told by the check-in staff that the rooms may be ready around 230pm, check-in was 4pm, turned out our rooms weren’t ready until closer to 5pm. The resort was fairly large with 3 buildings of rooms across the street from the main resort. Of course our rooms where across the street though Brax had requested beach view rooms. I get it’s only a request but it didn’t seem like the place was close to being full. When we finally got our room keys and went to collect all our luggage the bellman offered us a cart but I didn’t get the impression he would bring us our luggage on the cart so we just took our own stuff and headed across the street. Our rooms were close as was requested but one on the first floor and the other on the second floor which wasn’t a biggee. Our rooms were spacious, 2 bedroom with kitchen and living room area. Appeared very clean until we walked barefoot, apparently mops aren’t used. Our kitchen was minus a coffee pot and toaster but Troya and Doc’s room had both. Getting coffee filters was like pulling teeth, they gave us a few then I ended up buying more toward the end of the week.

Our view overlooked a large canal with homes lining the canal, it certainly could have been worse. On the outside of the rooms I noticed several of the casing around the air conditioning units were falling apart. Not sure when the last time the place had been painted, it looked like it needed it along with some other maintenance needs. The grounds in general were clean and neat but very minimal as far as decor goes. I realize this was not a five-star resort but the place really has potential.

That Friday night we ate at the resort restaurant. It was a buffet that was decent, not a ton of selections but what was there was good.

Saturday we decided to hang out by the pool/beach. The weather was partly sunny and warm. Average this time of year is mid-70’s to low 80’s with the water temp in the 70’s. We participated in some afternoon(may have been late morning) cocktails that were tasty. This was the first resort I’ve stayed at that there wasn’t a wait person taking orders so if we needed a drink we had to go to the bar but if we needed food we couldn’t order from the bartender, had to be from another person. Maybe during the busy season they have poolside/beach wait staff. The food was good, the greek chicken salad was awesome!!!

After we had been laying out and relaxing we took a walk down the beach. There was a beach/road side cart called Michelle’s that had a menu of lobster, conch, fish, chicken and pork. Michelle was out on the beach, hustlin’ for business. She was very nice and swore we’d enjoy her food, offered up a deal on the lobster dish if we’d return. We continued down the beach where we came across an outside bar called On Da Rocks so we stopped to check it out. The bartender was awesome, warmed up to us crazy Californians after a bit. We taught him a drink or two. They also had food there, fresh conch being pulled out of the shell as we watched. Brax ordered the conch and lobster dish and conch fritters. We got the fritters first…YUM!!!!! Then sometime later Brax came over with a styrofoam container full of conch and lobster in a spicy, garlic lemon sauce. It was delicious!!!! I think really the best food all week.

Brax had spoken with one of the taxi drivers earlier and got some info on what to do and where to eat for dinner. We really wanted to eat good local food. Dave, the taxi guy, recommended a place called Sire’s, so off we went. The place reminded me of on old fastfood restaurant with the counter that was turned into a bar and tables with bench seating. Lots of locals which to me means it’s probably good. We sat outside where they had a large pull down screen that they showed TV on. The waitress was nice but not overly friendly, kinda felt like we might have been bothering her. A few things on the menu they didn’t end up having, lobster being one of them along with a couple of bahamain beers we wanted to try. Cracked conch is what we came to understand was a mainstay of a Bahamian diet. Basically it’s pounded out conch then lightly floured and fried. Rice and peas(think red beans), plantains and macaroni(mac’n’cheese) are also common sides. The cracked conch and shrimp I had was pretty good, the fish fingers were delicious. Grouper is a common fish used in dishes. If you like fish and have an opportunity to try grouper I’d recommend it. It’s got great flavor, mild, slightly firm and not fishy tasting/smelling at all!

Sunday afternoon we dove with Sun Odyssey dive shop. It was very convenient, walking distance from the resort. Nic the owner got us all checked in then directed us to follow Doc(he was doing his check out dives here) to get our BC’s, wetsuits and regulators. After helping ourselves to the equipment with some assistance from Mya, Nic’s assistance, we headed to the boat. Once on the boat we put BCD’s and regulators on tanks. Luckily we had Brax, he’s a master diver and I am a fairly new diver, so he could double check we had it right. Our first dive was a very shallow dive so Doc could do some of his check off requirements. When we arrived to the site, Nic instructed Mya to take 2 other divers that were with us down while he took Doc down and told Brax to take Bacon and I down and basically do and go where we want. The visibility was great, some beautiful fish and coral but nothing super exciting. About half way thru our dive I started having problems with by BCD filling with air, fortunately this was a very shallow dive. When we got on the boat I showed Mya what it was doing then told Nic who didn’t seem to concerned, that bothered me. Our second dive was a wreck dive that was approximately 50ft down. When I jumped in, the secondary regulator was constantly blowing air so I got back on the boat and Nic replaced it with a different one. Back in I went but unfortunately as I approached the site of the wreck I started to feel I was really having to work to breath and the deeper we went the harder it was so as much as I tried to relax and talk myself out of having a bit of a panic attack I couldn’t. I got Brax’s attention and made our way back up to the boat…such a bummer!!!

That evening we went back to Michelle’s on the beach for dinner. She gave us a great deal on the lobster dish which included 2 small tails, rice and peas, plantains and cabbage and carrots for $10. It was very good as was the conch dish she made.

Monday we went to Port Lucaya, a popular tourist spot. The resort offered free regular shuttles to and from. Port Lucaya had several restaurants and bars along with little shops and marts. I was disappointed with the shopping. Nothing very unique, every little shop had the same junk basically. I did find a cute shell ring for $12 at the cigar shop. Several places had happy hours so we of course took advantage of that. While walking around trying to decide where to eat for dinner, we asked a local woman named Genny where she might recommend. She was very friendly, said her husband had an Italian restaurant named Giovanni’s if we felt like Italian but also said there were several good restaurants. In the end we went to their restaurant and were not disappointed. Genny came to our table said not only did they have Italian food we could also order Caribbean food as well. We all ordered the same thing because it was a fantastic deal. The menu over all looked good, lots of choices but they had a deal for 2 people that included soup or salad, wine, Frutti di Mare pasta(mussels,conch,shrimp,lobster in garlic and olive oil) and dessert for $45. The wine selection in the Bahamas appears limited as is the knowledge about the wines at least in places we went. The wine that came with our dinner was a burgundy but the waitress didn’t know the name of it. It wasn’t very good but we did order a bottle of Bardelino from Italy that was reasonably priced and was decent. It was on the light side, decent fruit not sweet and slightly tart but paired well with our food. The staff at Giovanni’s was very friendly and helpful. Genny even offered up her nephew Robert to take us back to the hotel. We declined the offer but Robert was very nice and I’m sure he would have done it.

Tuesday was the BEST day of our trip! Brax booked a swim with the dolphin’s excursion thru Unexso. This is a big commercial operation that also offers diving, snorkeling and other dolphin experiences. I had mixed emotions about the dolphin excursion, I didn’t know what to expect. I hate to see animals being exploited and in sad situations and I certainly hate to contribute to that by partaking in such activities. But this was a professional operation that seemed to really care for these animals and has their best interest at heart. We were taken by boat thru the canals to a large lagoon where the dolphins are kept. There, the 5 of us(Bacon stayed home) and 2 other girls were introduced to one of the trainers that gave us some background on the program and information on the dolphins as well as instructions when we got in the water. The 5 of us got in first with 2 dolphins, Exuma and I can’t remember the other ones name, 2 at a time we swam out then the dolphins swim out to catch up. I swam with Exuma, it was so exhilarating! She was so smooth! I’d dive down and she’d follow right next to me, then she’d lead me down for a dive. The trainer said I was spoiling her:) These animals are so amazing!!! They seemed happy and it was clear the trainers really cared for these animals. It was cool to talk with the trainers and learn some about how they work with dolphins. After our dolphin excursion we had lunch and cocktails at Sabor, a cool little bar/restaurant overlooking the canal. It was on the same property as the Pelican Bay Resort which was beautiful. If I were to go back I’d like to stay there. The bartender at Sabor made us a very delicious cocktail and lunch was very good. We walked across the street to check out the Grand Lucayan Resort. This property is HUGE!! Beautiful beach front property with a nice pool and a few bars and restaurants along the beach. We returned back to our hotel, got ready for a beach bonfire on Taino beach…It was lame so we headed back to Port Lucaya for dinner at Agave a Latin fusion restaurant. I had a delicious burrito of chicken, black beans and a very spicy curry sauce, not your typical burrito but I wasn’t expecting real Mexican food.

Wednesday we hung out at the resort, the weather was getting pretty cloudy but still warm. We ventured off to find the $2 dollar bar. On our walk there we passed 2 other couples that had clearly already been to the $2 bar because they couldn’t walk a straight line if they tried!! We walked in to this small screened in bar with 2 LARGE dudes sitting at the bar. They were hilarious!!!! They lived there, the one guy was born and raised on the island. It was cool to sit a talk with someone local. That evening we went to the Fish Fry. All week everyone talked about the Fish Fry on Wednesday nights. David took us and pointed out the different places to eat and the bar where everyone hung out and danced. Between the 6 of us we ate at three different spots, basically all offered the same food…fish and chicken with macaroni, rice and peas or coleslaw. Brax got chicken and ribs, I got snapper with coleslaw and macaroni from a different place. Everyone else got the turbet(not sure that’s the spelling but the same as the trigger fish). The fish is whole and fried. My snapper was very good as was my macaroni and cheese and coleslaw. We then headed back to where the bar and dancing was happening, hung out there for a bit and did some people watching.

Our last day we stayed at the resort and hung out by the pool, the weather was starting to cool off a bit but that didn’t stop us. Brax and I took a walk on the beach one last time. The water was beautiful, perfectly still, gently lapping up on the shore. Had it been warmer I would have grabbed my snorkeling gear, we hadn’t seen it that smooth all week. Down the beach a bit was a beach-side make shift bar serving some cocktails and food so we got a drink then headed back to get everyone else. We all returned with the intentions of trying some food but when we returned, Bernie the owner, had left to make a run to get more beer and ice so one of the other patrons began making us cocktails. When Bernie returned we made sure to pay him for our drinks. Thinking Doc had ordered us food, we waited and waited, remember we’re on island time. Doc had ordered but apparently Bernie forgot because at some point an hour plus later he asked Doc if he needed to order. Needless to say we moved on and decided we’d eat again at Sire’s for our last dinner in the Bahamas.

Over all I was disappointed and can’t say I’d go back. In general I felt like the people were indifferent and not very accommodating. The food was decent, groceries were on the pricey side. The island itself is flat with lots of shrubs and a lot of litter which is such a shame. I’m sure there is great diving to be had but unfortunately I missed out on that. The resort was definitely a disappointment. On the bright side we were with great friends and that’s most important. Happy Travels!!!

GSM Paso Robles Tour 1/27&28,2013

Well several months ago Troya and I found some sweet deals at The Paso Inn and Hotel Cheval so Doc went to work researching wineries with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blends.His findings took us to some new wineries we’ve never been to along with a few that we always hit when we’re in Paso. Paso is one of my favorite places to go tasting, there are soooo many wineries and it’s beautiful. To top it off many of these wineries are smaller and more personable but even the larger wineries are very friendly and not snooty, a big plus for me.

We started the day off at Kukkula where Brax and I are members. The 2009 Sisu(GSM) was pretty amazing and I enjoyed the 2010 Aatto. This winery is sustainable, organic and only dry farms. They also offer some food to enjoy along with the lovely wine and scenery. The next on the tour was Alta Colina, a small family owned winery. For me I didn’t find anything that fit my taste but to each his own.

Villa Creek was the next on our list. I really liked two of their wines, Avenger and High Road but thought it was a bit over priced, $100 for High Road. On to Hearthstone, here I like the 2010 Pearl(Roussanne, Viognier), fruity nose, floral but not too sweet with a rich finish. They also had a Pinot, GSM, Mourvedre and Cab. Next to our last stop was Windward, purely Pinots here, the 2008 Pinot was very good. Our last stop of the day was L’Aventure, owned by a frenchie, so this was interesting to see his take on American winemaking. Two wines I liked here, Optimus2010(Syrah,Cab,Petit Verdot) and the Estate Cuvee.  Since this was our last stop we headed to the Paso Inn before dinner. Good thing we got a good deal because I wasn’t impressed. We upgraded to a king room with the natural sulfur spas. Well I’m not exactly sure what health benefits sulfur spas have but not sure it’s worth the stink. As it turned out, the water in the spa wouldn’t heat up. The rooms were spacious but very bare in decor. The bathroom was very big with nice counters but the shower was small for the amount of space in the bathroom. The grounds at the Inn are very pretty and the front desk clerks were helpful, we got our money back for the upgrade since the spa didn’t work.

For dinner we went to Villa Creek(same as the winery), great atmsophere, the food was really good, Brax’s lamb shank was fabulous and I don’t like lamb usually.

Monday we started out at Kenneth Volk where you pick 6 out of 19 wines to taste. We went home with the Tannat 2009 and the Mourvedre 2009. From there we went to Niner where Troya and Doc planned on joining. This is a beautiful tasting room! They also do cooking classes there so they have a professional kitchen with beautiful,quaint dining area. The Cab was the only wine I really like, very drinkable, not a lot of tannins. We next went to Zenaida Cellars. They had a few really nice wines, the 2010 Zin was good as well as the 2010 Wanderlust(GSM) and the 2009 Fire Sign. Pipestone Vineyards was our next stop, a bit of a drive back in the hills and looks very farmy, horses in pastures, goats, goose and a duck in pens with a very friendly large dog to greet you. This is a fully solar-powered, sustainable, and organic winery. The use draft horses to work the vineyards which I think is pretty cool. The wines were surprising decent, particularly the 2008 Rhone Style Red Wine and the 2008 Syrah was very good.

My fave of the day and the trip was Terry Hoage Vineyards. Leanne from L’Aventure had recommended we go here the day before and I am so happy we did!!! All of the wines were excellent but the 2010 The Pick(GSM) and the 2010 5 Blocks(Syrah Cuvee) were outstanding. I think we may end up joining the wine club. I definitely recommend it!

We ventured back to town to walk around and try a couple of tasting rooms in town that Doc and Troya had been to before. The first was Bodegas, they specialized in Spanish varietals. For me, I didn’t find anything that did it for me. We then went to Parrish Family Vineyards. The 2008 GSM Rhone Blend was very good.

By the time we finished tasting for the day we were starving! We’d decided to get pizza and some paninis at the cheese shop next to Hotel Cheval so we could hang out by the fireplace in the courtyard. Hotel Cheval is spectacular!!! Very quaint and elegant. The rooms are beautiful and the courtyard with several fireplaces, tables and lounges set up around them make it very inviting. So we enjoyed our Marv’s pizza, which was excellent, along with the cheese paninis and wine and played cards for several hours. A great end to a fanTASTEtic couple of days!!! Until our next adventure……

Napa 1/13/13

We headed to Napa for a limo winetasting tour with a couple of great friends of ours. Our first treat of the day was a cheese and wine pairing at Patz and Hall where our friends are members. Amanda, our lovely host, greeted us with their first release of a sparkling wine that was very crisp and not too sweet. The pairings consisted of two Chardonnays and three Pinots with some cheeses and these rediculous truffle almonds. The Chardonnays were very good but the Pinots were excellent,my favorite being the Chenoweth, needless to say we’re now members…I’ll let you know when I open the first bottle.

Next was Artisan. I’d been there once before and enjoyed their sparkling wine along with a Pinot. I was a bit disappointed, not what I remembered and wines are on the pricey side.  From Artisan we went to Caymus for another cheese and wine pairing. We had an appointment at Caymus which we were a few minutes late for but we called to give them a heads up and make sure that wasn’t going to be a problem. When we arrived a not very friendly women told us they already started and should just go to the tasting room as she left us in a enclosed cold chamber. A few seconds later someone lead us into the warehouse where the tasting had just started. Jim, the host, made me change my not so good impression of the place. He was very personable, funny and knowledgeable. Their 2009 Zinfandel was excellent as was the Cab, which says a lot coming from me because I’m typically not a big fan of either.

Next was Turnbull, which I’m going to have to admit I don’t recall a whole lot about..drunkies;) Then, because by this time we all got a good little buzz going, it seemed like a good idea to make our last stop Opus One. Needless to say my taste buds were about done by this time, great time to drop $45 a tasting….NOT! But if you’ve never been to Opus One it is an experience, the winery is gorgeous and of course the wine is good but expensive so if you go, do it as your first tasting.

For dinner we went to Morimoto’s, an upscale sushi and Japanese restaurant. It was excellent, some very different dishes offered and the sushi was very fresh. After dinner we attempted to walk back to the Westin but it was too cold for our wimpy butts so we stopped in the nearest bar,Fish Story, while we waited for our ride. Very tasty drinks but rude bartender.

If you’re planning a trip to Napa I’d definitely recommend a visit to Patz and Hall as well as Caymus. The Westin is never a disappointment, always comfortable, clean and not rediculously expensive. If you’re a sushi fan check out Morimoto’s, great atmosphere and excellent food though it is pricey. Enjoy your food and wine, I know I do!!!

Carmel By The Sea-Brax’s Birthday

For Brax’s birthday I purchased a Groupon deal for The Cobblestone Inn, a bed and breakfast in Carmel. Troya and Doc also participated in the festivities which of course included LOTS of wine tasting.

On Sunday we walked around town a found several tasting rooms. Manzoni’s was our first stop, there we tasted a very nice Pinot Gris but I really liked the Chardonnay.  Their Syrah was also nice thou not typical of a Syrah, more like a bigger Pinot Noir.  Our next stop was Scheid which had 3 different tasting flights to choose from, needless to say we spent quite awhile there. Nick, the gentleman that was pouring that day, was awesome. He was very knowledgable about the wines and described them very accurately. There we tasted several Pinot Noirs, a 50%Cab and 50% Syrah, Petite Verdot, Syrah Rose’, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. All were pretty tasty but my favorite was one of the clone Pinots.  From there we went to get some cheese and crackers at The Cheese Shop. There we found the most deeeeeelicious truffle cheese, a creamy brie and I can’t remember the third( I might have been slightly buzzed, on wine and truffle cheese). Wrath’s tasting room was next to The Cheese Shop so we tasted some more tasty wine along with our cheese there.

We went to a Japanese restaurant called The Flying Fish for dinner, the food was decent, Brax and I shared a seafood/veggie/noodle dish that was good. From there we found a cool little spot on the roof top of Visuvious with several fire pits to sit around, had some cocktails and munchies(the trufffle fries were to die for).

On Monday we awoke to some drizzle which then turned into a down pour, quite a change from the beautiful day we had on Sunday but that didn’t stop us. Doc and Troya had been tasting in the past at wineries out in the Carmel Valley area so we headed that way for more wine tasting and some lunch.

There are 16 wineries or tasting rooms in the Carmel Valley. Our first was Hellar, personally I didn’t find anything there I liked. Next was Parsonage, again nothing I was in love with but the Bordelais Red Wine was good. From there we went to Boekenoogen, I found a few I liked there. Their Chardonnay had distinct flavors of pineapple and honeydew melon with slightly creamy texture, very yummi!! They also had 2 very good Pinot Noirs.  We had a nice lunch at Corkscrew, I recommend the Croque Monsieur, it was delicious. Talbott’s tasting room was conveniently located next to Corkscrew so that was our next stop. Talbott had 2 flights to choose from with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on both. From there we walked down the street and stumbled across a place called The Quail and Olive where they sold olive oils and balsalmic vinegar. We tasted a few very delicious olive oils and vinegar along with some truffle oil. Our last stop was Joullian, they poured a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and a Zinfandel.

Everyone at the tasting rooms were very friendly and not at all snooty. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of great quality wines for decent prices in Carmel.  I look forward to going back to Carmel again, it’s so beautiful and fortunately conveniently located within an hour from us.

 

Beer Crawl Downtown Morgan Hill

Saturday we did some beer tasting, 17 breweries to be exact. 19 breweries and 2 hard cider makers participated. Most of the breweries I’d never heard of. Many had IPA’s they were pouring which I’m not a fan of, too bitter. But they did have one of my favorites which is Lost Coast Great White, a very light crisp wheat beer. There were 2 nice hard ciders made by Duche De Longueville, both were crisp and not too sweet.
By the end of the day I was nice and bloated, the down side of beer but over all it was a nice day. I hope they make it a yearly affair.