Travel & Food

I fell in love with California back in 1997. We came here for a short trip, all the way from Israel. I saw plenty of Europe before that, but I had never been to the US. We started our trip on the East Coast, then flew to the West Coast.

I remember my first impression of California. Everything seemed bright, sunny and spacious. People were friendly, driving around in their shiny convertibles. It was definitely more laid back than the East Coast or Tel Aviv, and people seemed more relaxed. The diversity of people and landscape was incredible, and so was the healthy, outdoor lifestyle. I immediately fell in love.

Two years later we came back to California, this time for work. We never expected to still be here, 11 years later, but we are. During those 11 years, I got to experience a lot more of California, and each experience made me fall in love even more. The Silicon Valley is amazing – a vibrant hub of technology and entrepreneurship. San Francisco is diverse and beautiful. Lake Tahoe offers great skiing in the winter. Napa Valley is gorgeous and so very tasty. We love San Diego’s warm weather, sandy beaches, and its colorful old town where we get to relax and sip margaritas (the kids love Sea World and the zoo, of course). And the gorgeous National Parks! We love Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs, and Yosemite is pristine and magnificent.

It’s not perfect, of course. California lacks four distinct seasons. The coast is almost always foggy and the Pacific Ocean is cold. There are so many people here! Roads are always congested. State taxes are ridiculously high, real estate is (still) overpriced, at least here in the Bay Area, and the state has had a string of unfortunate governors. With 12% unemployment and a huge budget deficit, the Great Recession has been tough on California.

Still, I love this place. Last week, with our kids’ school closed for the Jewish New Year, we decided to explore a region that we weren’t really familiar with – the Central Coast – and I fell in love with California, all over again.

Solvang

I loved Solvang, a city that offers a taste of Denmark right here in California, including a taste of Aebleskiver – Danish Pancake Balls, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with strawberry preserve. The entire experience was incredibly touristy – the whole city is basically a tourist trap – but it was different and fun.

solvang

danish pancakes

Channel Islands

The following day, I fell in love with the raw, untouched natural beauty of Channel Islands:

pelicans

california sea lions

Channel Islands

Santa Barbara

I enjoyed the amazing food and wine we got to try during our trip, including a fabulous meal at Olio e Limone Restaurant in Santa Barbara.

olive oil

olives

ravioli

Pismo Beach

At the beautiful Pismo Beach, I just relaxed and allowed the amazing staff of the Dolphin Bay Resort and Spa to seriously pamper me. The combination of cool outside temperatures (65-70 degrees F), warm saline pool, and HOT jacuzzi was amazing – especially when we kept alternating between swimming at the pool and dipping in the jacuzzi. Breakfasts were SO SO good!

Pismo Beach

sunset

vered deleeuw

Breakfast

breakfast taco

Cass Winery, Paso Robles

Reluctantly, we ended our trip, but not before stopping at Cass winery in Paso Robles and enjoying some great wine, a well-prepared lunch, and the best peaches I have ever tasted – one of them accompanied my cheese plate so of course we had to buy a bag of them.

Cass Winery Vineyard

Gazpacho

Peaches

I love my life, and am generally very grateful for everything, but if I could change just one thing, I would travel more.

Do you like to travel? Do you travel often?

Visiting Vancouver

by MomGrind

view-from-airplane-1

view-from-airplane-2

Visiting Vancouver is something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time now. So, despite promising to focus on staycations, I recently took a flight to Vancouver and stayed there for a long weekend.

Yes, I hate flying, but the flight to Vancouver was uneventful, and I loved the views from the airplane so much, that I had to snap the above photos.

I always thought about Vancouver, which is a short 2-hour flight from San Francisco, as beautiful, diverse, just as laid back as my beloved San Francisco, but different enough to make the travel worth the hassle.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Our Vancouver vacation was simple and relaxing. We stayed in downtown Vancouver, at the Four Seasons Hotel. Yes, it’s not exactly a cheap hotel, but we got a great discount, and the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Vancouver is a lot cheaper than Four Seasons Hotels in the US. I’m not sure why – it was great in every way. Obviously, there are many excellent hotels in Vancouver that are far more affordable.

We went to many of the Vancouver tourist attractions, including the gorgeous totem poles in Stanley Park:

totem-pole-vancouver

We also visited Granville Island (which we thought was too touristy), Canada Place, Gastown, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the UBC Museum of Anthropology, which we found boring to the point of tears.

Weather cooperated beautifully – we were lucky. We enjoyed the typical Vancouver mild temperatures without paying the price of enduring bucket loads of rain. We were dressed in short sleeves and tank tops most of the time.

stanley-park-vancouver

Vancouver is very gay-friendly, which was apparent from these ads. The fact that there are two (possibly three – I haven’t seen a lesbian version) versions of the same ad seems to demonstrate a natural, healthy approach towards sexual orientation:

gay-ad

straight-ad

An older local lady that stood next to me as I was taking one of these photos (the ads were placed on a bus station) commented that she doesn’t feel comfortable when her grandchildren visit and are exposed to such explicit sexual messages, whether gay or straight.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. What do you think? Would you feel uncomfortable seeing these ads? Would it make a difference if your kids were with you?

Visiting Vancouver reminded me that sometimes, enduring a flight is absolutely worth it. I can’t wait for our next trip.

Sin City Pictures

by MomGrind

I took these Sin City pictures during my last visit to Vegas. Looking at them makes me a little sad.

You see, I used to love Vegas.

I always thought Las Vegas was a great place because of the high energy, the glitz, the tackiness that is so loud and in-your-face, it somehow turns into something pulled together and very stylish.

I’m not sure what happened, but on my last visit to Sin City, a few weeks ago, I decided that I don’t really like Vegas at all. Perhaps it was the heat – we arrived during a heat wave that brought the temperatures to a sweltering 110 degrees.

Or maybe it was my feminism. I had a very hard time watching all the women displaying their bodies in very short, very tight, very revealing outfits while the men, fully dressed, were ogling them and pretty much treating them as pieces of meat.

One evening in particular, as we were entering the hotel, there were several groups of scantily clad women and fully clothed men. The men were looking at the women with those terrible eyes that view women not as people but as objects; the heat was unbearable; people were carrying drinks while walking around; everyone was really loud; and all I wanted to do was go hide in my hotel room.

And don’t get me started on the gambling and on how awful it is to see a hollow-eyed 70 year old woman wasting her life savings away at the Blackjack table.

Interestingly, as we were walking along The Strip one evening on our way to a Jay Leno performance (he was excellent, by the way), we came across a group of religious activists that were trying really hard to get the attention of the sinners around them, without much success. The contrast between the loud, cheerful, drunk party goers surrounded by neon signs featuring half-naked women, and the solemn activists, was quite striking.

 

Sin City pictures – the nakedness:

vegas-prive

 

vegas-peepshow

 

vegas-jubilee

 

Sin City pictures – the warnings:

las-vegas-sign

 

vegas-sign

 

vegas-sign

cabo-resort1We recently spent a week in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Cabo San Lucas (population 56,000) is a city at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, in the municipality of Los Cabos, in the state of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

In 1974, the Mexican government created the infrastructure to turn Cabo San Lucas into one of the most attractive tourism centers in Mexico. The dusty desert town is now a popular holiday destination, thanks to the many gifts nature has given it: warm, dry climate, clear warm waters, beautiful sandy beaches, and abundant fish.

Cabo San Lucas is one of our favorite holiday spots. It offers a fun, casual atmosphere, plenty of restaurants, amazing golf courses and great nightlife.

Many of the restaurants are basically tourist traps where no self-respecting Mexican would ever consider dining (but we did, since we are not Mexican, and we are definitely not self-respecting):

mexican-waiter

 

mexican-waiter-2

We also managed to eat in a few restaurants that felt more authentic and had a strong presence of locals.

Of course, no trip to Cabo is complete without a visit to the local Wal-Mart for some bottled water. Tap water in Mexico is considered unsafe for tourists to drink, although resorts and reputable restaurants supposedly purify their water. Don’t be alarmed, prices are in Pesos:

wal-mart-cabo-a

 

A visit to Cabo San Lucas offers an interesting contrast between the beauty and abundance of the tourist resorts, and the surroundings, which are mostly poor, neglected and rundown. Even downtown Cabo San Lucas, with its clubs and restaurants and shops, has many underdeveloped areas and doesn’t measure up to similar cities in the United States in terms of infrastructure.

Last year I had a very hard time enjoying the resort, after an unplanned detour to a small, poverty-stricken nearby town.

This year, the contrast between the amazing sights, smells and textures in the beautiful resort:

cabo-resort-1

 

cabo-resort2

 

sunset

 

cactus1

 

lizard1

And the rundown dustiness surrounding it:

cabo-san-lucas-street

 

cabo-san-lucas-street-1

Was just as striking, but I reminded myself that tourism is actually very good for the area and its residents.

So I relaxed, enjoyed my cold beers and large margaritas, and had some fun. After all, that’s what vacations are for.

Skiing In Tahoe

by MomGrind

Ski season is almost over. Living in dry, sunny California means it will be at least nine months before we’re back on the slopes.

We love skiing in Tahoe. We live about 200 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe. During the winter, we drive to the mountains 3-4 times to ski. But these trips are not just about skiing.

They are also about family bonding. About spending time together, uninterrupted by internet or work. And about doing an exhilarating physical activity together and taking pride in our progress and skill.

ski slope

Our ski trips are also about shaking snow off trees:

snowy tree

Making the effort to climb up that snowy hill with your sled because sledding down is SO MUCH FUN:

Sometimes, they’re about enduring snow storms, snowy roads and terrible traffic:

snow-storm

snowy-road1

bad-traffic1

Of course, no ski trip feels complete without building a snowman.

snowman

We always look forward to breathing in the clean, dry mountain air and taking in the breathtaking beauty of snow-covered mountains and beautiful lakes.

snowy-mountain

lake-tahoe

An important part of any trip is having great meals at our favorite local restaurants. More accurately, the three of us have great meals, while a certain fourth member of our family, the smallest one, pushes around the food on her plate while eagerly awaiting the arrival of the only course worth paying attention to in any meal: the dessert.

For said dessert, we never forget to pay a visit to the local handmade chocolate store. They have this huge pot where they melt chocolate for their homemade chocolate fudge. The sweet, chocolaty aroma that greets you as you enter that store is the kind of thing that makes you forget all about fitness and nutrition and just go for it. After all, you only live once, right?

truckee

We loved our weekend in Napa Valley, California.

The vineyards were gorgeous.

napa vineyard

Duckhorn Vineyards
Duckhorn Vineyards

sunflowers napa

Wine tastings at the wineries were fun.


Domaine Chandon fermentation tanks

With clean air, beautiful bike trails, posh hotels, great restaurants featuring highly creative chefs, and streets with names like Zinfandel Lane and Vintage Avenue, you can’t go wrong in Napa. It’s one of our favorite places for fun and relaxation.

cocktails
Brunch at Auberge du Soleil

seared ahi tuna
Brunch at Auberge du Soleil

marshmallow pie
Campfire pie, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

At first I thought that the recession is not really felt in Napa. Hotels are fully booked, and restaurants are crowded.

Bouchon Restaurant
Bouchon Restaurant

But the hotel’s staff said they used to have many more guests from the East Coast, and now almost everyone is local. They think people are trying to avoid flights and long drives, and take local vacations (or staycations) as much as possible. It makes sense: one of the reasons we chose Napa was its proximity to where we live.

Most importantly: I spent our entire weekend in Napa, three full days, with no internet access. It was pure heaven. I didn’t miss you guys at all. 🙂 One of my goals is to spend a full day each week without using my computer. But unless we’re on vacation, I’m rarely able to do that. Usually, the most I can go is a few hours. But it’s an important goal of mine, and I WILL make it happen.

Do you unplug regularly?

I tried spicy chocolate and lived to tell you about it.

Spicy Chocolate

It was a strange experience. Chocolaty and rich and sweet, yet SPICY.

I did not enjoy these at all.

It’s difficult to say which was more offensive: the Strawberry Pepper spicy chocolate, with WHOLE PEPPERCORNS inside, or the VERY spicy Mango Chili flavor.

Each was bad in its own unique way.

But I always say that I will try anything once. So there. I tried spicy chocolate and lived to tell you about it.