Yosemite National Park

We are blessed to live in a country with some amazingly gorgeous national parks that have immense diversity of landscape, animals, flora and fauna. We have President Theodore Roosevelt to thank for much of the effort in creating some national parks, the US National Forest Service, and for his efforts to preserve the beauty of our vast country.

There are over 400 national parks in the US and US territories. I have been fortunate to have visited perhaps a dozen of these, so I have barley scratched the surface.

One of my favorites is Yosemite National Park, which is located in the western Sierra Nevada range of Central California. We visited in April, 2018 and the weather was perfect. A bit chilly in the mornings and evenings, but sunny, clear and absolutely perfect for hiking and exploring. As I have mentioned in many of my blog posts, vacationing in the off season means fewer crowds and lower prices as well.

We stayed at Wawona Lodge, formerly Big Tree Lodge.

This charming Victorian Era hotel opened in the 1850s, and is 20 miles from Tunnel View. This scene took my breath away when I first saw it in the misty, morning light.

Half Dome Rock is a granite dome at the eastern end of the park. It was first ascended by George Anderson in 1875, and is still a popular spot today for rock climbers.

Yosemite Falls is a spectacular site to witness. There are many waterfalls in the park and they are at their fullest in the spring.

And of course, there are many hiking trails in the park offering beautiful views.

As we wandered through a pretty meadow, we saw a group of picnickers sprawled out on blankets, with binoculars, oohing and aahing at the side of a cliff. We turned and realized that they were watching a group of rock climbers ascend a rock wall. We stopped to watch as well. The climbers are far more brave than I am! I prefer the spectator spot for this sport.

There are many more activities in Yosemite than what I have mentioned here, as well as the amazing beauty of the area. Have you been to Yosemite National Park? As always, please leave a comment and share your favorite things about the park.

Sonoma County Wine Tasting

Every few years my husband and I take a trip to Sonoma County to collect wine. We do quite a lot of entertaining and enjoy finding new and interesting wines to share with our guests. And Sonoma County is a great place to do just that. Over the years we have found many lovely wines there that you will not find in your local grocery or liquor store.

We start our trip by flying to San Francisco or Oakland, renting a car and heading straight to Healdsburg. This small, quaint town has, on multiple occasions, won the award for one of the top ten best towns in America. The town square with a park in the center will make you feel like you’re stepping back in time. There are shops, tasting rooms, art galleries, and restaurants all around and off the square.

One of our favorite restaurants is Dry Creek Kitchen. Chef Charlie Palmer offers innovative, creative and delicious items in an elegant, yet comfortable setting. The menu includes a wide variety of items, including some plant based options.

Another one of our other favorite restaurants in Healdsburg is Bravas Tapas, also located right on the square. This is a fun and lively place for tapas and paella. Barndiva, located just off the square, also has delicious fare from their family farm, and other local producers. This farm to table restaurant is in a picturesque setting with indoor and outdoor seating.

Soda Rock is one of our favorite wineries in the county, and one of the oldest wineries in the area. The historic building was the site of the original Alexander Valley general store and post office.

My husband likes to find what he calls “dirt road wineries.” As the name implies, we find them at the end of dirt roads and off the beaten path. One such winery is Martorana Family Winery. They have been making wines for many years, starting in Italy, before settling in Dry Creek Valley. They have a California organic certification, and in addition to delicious wines, they also make olive oil.

Tough decision!

Bella Winery another small, family run winery is located off the beaten path and offers delicious zinfandels in a rural setting.

We visited the Toad Hallow tasting room just off the square in Healdsburg. Toad Hallow was founded by Todd Williams, the brother of Robin Williams. The story told to us by the tasting room employee is this; apparently when Robin was young he called his brother “Toad” rather then “Todd,” thus the name of the winery. However, that is not confirmed on the website. Hmm, anyway, their wines are delicious and incredibly affordable. Sadly, both Todd and Robin have passed away. The winery is run now by Todd’s wife, Frankie Williams.

The Sonoma county area is a gorgeous place to visit, I want to stop at every bend and turn in the road to take photos.

When visiting wineries, be sure to have a designated driver, or take a tour. Better to be safe than have any problems. There are many companies that offer tours, vans, etc, so you don’t have to drive.

Have you visited Sonoma County? If so, please leave a comment below with your favorite wineries.

Barcelona or Madrid, Tough Decision!

Barcelona and Madrid, two very different cities, each with its own vibe. Barcelona is playful and child like, where Madrid feels like the mature, older sibling. The influence of Antoni Goudi is vividly present in Barcelona, where as Madrid has a much more elegant feel with its grand boulevards. Both cities have much to offer, and are popular tourist destinations for people from all around the world.

We visited in October, 2013, and were welcomed by bright blue skies and temperatures hovering in the high 70s. After checking into our Airbnb, we headed out to explore the neighborhood. The narrow streets open up onto plazas and squares where you will find restaurants, buskers, shops, churches, monuments and so much more. We entered one such plaza after dark and I had to stop to take in the variety of activity. There were cafes, bars, restaurants, musicians, acrobats, police officers on horseback, people dressed up in various costumes, venders selling light sticks, it was an amazing site to see.

Normally, my husband and I go to bed fairly early, but we had so much fun bar hopping, that we were out until midnight every night. This is quite out of character for us. On our third day there, our daughter arrived from the US. We all went out that night and at one point she looked at us and said: “Who are you and what have you done with my parents!?!”

We visited the beach the next day and even though it was mid October, people were swimming and sunbathing.

The influence of Goudi is prevalent in Barcelona. His unique style can be seen in many areas in the city, including the famous temple, Sagrada Familia.

The Picasso Museum is also an interesting place to visit. As you work your way through the building, you will see how his works changed as he got older.

The Mercado de La Boqueria on La Rambla is filled with almost everything imaginable, restaurants, vendors, food, clothing, the list goes on.

After an intense five days in Barcelona, we headed to Madrid. We were greeted by our Airbnb host, who gave us a tour of the neighborhood and local market. There are many things to do and see in Madrid, museums, local art, restaurants, shops, cultural activities, and quite a few markets. I highly recommend visiting at least one of the markets while you are there.

The famous museum, Museo Nacional de Prado has a vast and numerous collection of paintings, sculptures, and so much more including works by Francisco Goya and Peter Rubens.

The Royal Palace of Madrid is a must see as well. It has many works of art, beautiful rooms and gardens.

And, of course, the food is amazing. We enjoyed croquettes, sardines, potatoes with aioli, olives, shellfish, tomatoes on bread, Spanish ham, all deliciously paired with cava. We enjoyed hot chocolate and churros for dessert, yummy!

We sat in an outdoor cafe in Plaza Mayor where, like in Barcelona, there was so much going on! Again we saw costumed characters, police officers on horseback, children chasing pigeons, shops, restaurants, waiters encouraging you stop for a snack or meal, artists, photographers, you name it and it was probably there.

Both cities have so much to offer, and are filled with history, culture and so much more. I didn’t find the people to be as friendly as they are in the UK or France, but they were not unfriendly either, just indifferent. In Barcelona, we stopped for a drink at an outdoor cafe, and the waiter told us to be careful, his friend had her cell phone stolen right out of her hand by a man riding a bike. We had heard that petty theft was a big problem in there, but we were surprised to be warned. The residents of Barcelona are experiencing tourist fatigue, something to consider when plannng a trip there. I am certainly not suggesting that you don’t visit, I would go back in a heartbeat. If you do go, use common sense and be a considerate guest.

Oregon, My Favorite State

Every year, my husband and I take multiple trips to Oregon. Portland is his hometown, and we have family, friends, kids and grandkids who live near there. In fact, we will probably move there in the not too distant future. So when my dear friend Jack suggested I write about Oregon, I thought it was a great idea, there’s so much to share! We were there just last weekend, and went to the Waterfront Blues Festival with our good friends. I wrote about the festival last week.

Our daughter moved to Oregon ten years ago to attend George Fox University. During that time, we visited many wineries in the Yamhill County area. Some of our favorites are Ponzi, Torii Mor, Sokol Blosser and Argyle. We are wine club members at Ponzi and visit the tasting room frequently. It is located in a beautiful setting with a view of the valley. Torii Mor is also in a lovely location, the wine maker is from France, and the wines are of the Burgundy style. Sokol Blosser makes a wide variety of wines. On our flight to Japan a few years ago, one of Delta’s featured wines was Sokol Blosser’s Evolution, a delicious, light, fruity white blend. Argyle specializes in sparkling wines. We served their Knudsen Vineyard Brut at our daughter’s wedding.

The small town of Dundee has some great restaurants. One of our favorites is the Dundee Bistro. They have been in business for over twenty years and specialize in local, seasonal dishes.

The Oregon Coast is one of the most beautiful coastlines I have ever seen. One stretch in particular in the southern part of the state near Brookings, is the Samual Boardman Scenic Corridor. Samual Boardman was Oregon’s first superintendent of parks. You will find breathtaking views and interesting rock formations along this 12 mile stretch of highway.

Along the coast in the northern part of the state you will find the remains of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park. The ship ran aground in October 1906.

Crater Lake National Park is another gorgeous place to visit. At one mile deep, it is the deepest lake in North America. There are many hikes to take that offer nice views of the lake and distant mountains.

The view of Mt. Shasta from a fire watch tower.

Another one of our favorite places to visit is Sunriver, in Central Oregon. This resort community offers many activities including hiking, canoeing, fishing, biking, skiing and much more. It is close to Mt. Bachelor which is a popular destination for winter sports.

The Paulina Lake Loop Trail, not far from Sunriver, is a 6.7 mile hike that is mostly flat and offers nice views.

We stopped for a picnic at the far end of the lake and were joined by this little critter.

If you’re into rock climbing, check out Smith Rock State Park.

Wallowa Lake, located in Northeast Oregon is yet another activity packed area to visit.

There is so much to see and do in Oregon, I have just barely scratched the surface with this post. What are your favorite places to visit there? As always, I welcome comments and questions.

Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival

In 1979 my brother and I saw Eric Clapton in concert at the Seattle Center Coliseum, Muddy Waters was the warm up act. This was my introduction to blues, and what a great place to start. Fast forward 40 years to the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, where, within minutes of arriving I heard an artist give tribute to Muddy; although he passed away 26 years ago, his legend lives on.

Back to the Portland Blues Festival, it is held at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. The festival started in 1987, and is sponsored by the Cascade Blues Association. It is usually held on the first weekend in July.

There are three stages set up so the music never stops. When one group finishes, the next one starts right up. Upon entering, we heard the Bottleneck Blues Band on the Front Porch Stage, the winners of the 2015 Muddy Awards Winner Best New Band. Some of the other groups we heard were the Rose City Kings with Travis Moonchild Haddix, Lisa Mann with Lura Price, Harpdog Brown and the Uptown Blues Band. He looked quite dashing in his suit and spats. There are many other groups scheduled over the rest of the weekend, and the music will continue through midnight Sunday, July 7, 2019.

There are many vendors set up as well, we found kilts, ceramics, jewelry, posters, and even a place to get a massage. There are multiple food booths, wine by Union Wine Company, beer and desserts. There is something for everyone. It’s an inviting place to grab some food, a drink, and sit back and enjoy the soulful, smooth sound of the blues.

My brother’s birthday is in a few days, and I’m sure he would have loved celebrating it at the blues fest. I can picture him sprawled out on a blanket, sipping a beer, watching the people, and throughly enjoying the amazing musicians on the multiple stages. Tragically, he took his own life 18 years ago. I think about him everyday and miss him terribly. His physical body was not at the festival, but I have no doubt that he was there in sprit.

Lyon, France

Lyon is known as France’s second city, but for so many reasons, I believe it is a far superior destination than France’s capital city. Wandering through the tree-lined streets, visiting the beautiful cathedrals, sitting in an outdoor cafe with a coffee or a glass of wine, and strolling through the market stalls along the river, will make you feel as though you are in Paris. However, Lyon is so much more inviting, and surpasses Paris in so many ways.

Lyon located in the central-eastern part of France, sits at the confluence of the Saone and Rhone rivers. Parts of the city are registered as a UNESCO Heritage Site.

The Romans settled here in 43 BC, and the ruins throughout the city are astonishing to witness. The Roman theater in the Fourvière district is an amazing place to visit; climbing around on the ancient steps is surreal. You will find some expansive views of the city from here. I find it completely amazing that the theater was modified over the years to include 10,000 seats!

You will find many other Roman ruins as you wander through the city.

Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste, located in Vieux-Lyon, is a beautiful place to visit. We attended a service here and were blown away by the acoustics.

La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere is another beautiful church to see. Construction began in 1872 with private funds, and was finished in 1884. It is situated at the top of Fourviére hill, and appears to be keeping a watchful eye over the city.

The Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourviere is another interesting place to visit, and has a good collection of Roman items, including currency, jewelry, ceramics and much more.

On February 18, 1944. Bernard Guy, a sergeant with the FFI (an independent group working to free France from the Nazis) was killed by the enemy. This remaining building is a tribute to his bravery.

It is a steep climb from VieuxLyon to the Fourviére district, but there is a funicular, which is a fun and quick way to get to the top.

Et, bien sur, the food is amazing. Lyon is a top destination for foodies. There are many fabulous restaurants, cafes and bars. Check out a food tour for a helpful introduction to the food scene in Lyon.

This was the dessert I had at one of the many restaurants we visited while in Lyon.

With all of this swooning about Lyon, I hope you now believe, as I do, that it is a far superior city to Paris; however, the piece de resistance comes down to the people. The people of Lyon make it a wonderful place to visit. They are friendly, welcoming and helpful. The city feels so much more welcoming than Paris.

On our last day, as our train pulled out of Lyon Part Dieu heading for Paris, and the long trip back home, I promised myself that I would return one day, and stay for a much longer time.