Thursday, August 28, 2014

San Francisco & Sonoma | Reunion Trip

Four days after we got home from London and Brussels, we got on yet another plane headed the opposite direction across the planet, to San Francisco! Sonya and Brandt were married in Carmel a few years ago and we spent a few days in San Francisco and Napa before their wedding. Soon after, they moved to SF and had been inviting us out there to visit ever since. We finally had (what we thought was going to be) a pretty free summer, so we started vacation planning purely revolving around eating and drinking since we'd already done the typical touristy stuff. In the meantime, Amy and John (and baby Jack) also moved to SF, and when some of our friends caught wind that we were planning a trip they decided to join us and so we made it a big reunion trip.



We flew in late on a Thursday night with Adrienne, and Kelly & Matt got in the day before us, so we all spent Friday together while our hosts were at work. We had lunch in Sausalito, a really cute town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Thanks Alisha for the recommendation!



From there, we went to Muir Woods for an afternoon of hiking. Travel tip: Make sure you have enough fuel, as there aren't many gas stations along the way and there is no cell phone service so you can't rely on Google Maps to tell you that you were almost there before you turned around and then came all the way back just to go 0.1 miles further. Lesson learned.



Once we finally got there, it was packed and we had to park really far away, but we were determined to go at this point. And after all that, we were pretty disappointed with the "trail" - it was a completely flat, wide wooden-plank path and only about a half mile long. There were a few small trails at the end, so we went on one of those to get an actual hike in for the day. The trees were huge and beautiful, and it was a pretty easy hike.



By the time we got back, everyone was home from work and Alisha got in town soon after. We all went out to dinner and caught up over a few drinks - we had to keep it a low key night since we had a long day ahead of us on Saturday!



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We spent the next day in Sonoma! We rented a limo to take us out to wine country and back, which was definitely the way to go with such a large party. Compared to Napa, we thought Sonoma was much more laid back, the wineries were just as beautiful, not as crowded, and not as far apart, and it was generally more affordable. We all did a wine tasting of 4-6 wines at each winery we visited. The tastings were all about $10, and they waived your tasting fee if you bought a bottle of wine. Such a great deal! Bring on the wine.

 






We went to four wineries: Larson Family, Robledo, Imagery Estate, and Kunde Family. I think the majority of us liked each winery better than the last (or maybe that was all the wine talking?). It was such a gorgeous day (perfect picnic weather, don't mind if we do!). We had such an awesome day.




Baby Jack was an absolute trooper the whole day. He did SO well, and we all loved being able to love on him :)  Bo is still not so sure about babies, but Jack made quite the impression on him. Baby steps...


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Since the theme for Saturday was wine, Sunday was all about food. Sonya and Brandt took us on a walking tour of their neighborhood and we went to so many cute and tasty places. We started with brunch at The Reverie Cafe - super cute, great patio, and delicious food - cash only! Then we picked up some macaroons from La Boulange - I saved these for later, perhaps too much later since they didn't quite compare to the ones we had in Paris, but still good. We continued walking down the street to Say Cheese, aka a small slice of heaven. This place had an overwhelming selection of meats and cheeses, and after much deliberation we finally narrowed it down to a select few. It's probably a good thing we don't have something like this in walking distance to our home in Atlanta, since it was dangerously amazing. By then we of course needed dessert, so a little further down the street we stopped into The Ice Cream Bar, an old fashioned ice cream shop and we loved it! I'd say we had earned it after walking up and down all the hills in that area ;)  Our final stop of our food excursion was Bacon Bacon, which as I'm sure you can guess, has quite the selection of bacon. We got a to-go order because we just had to try it but we were so full at this point!

  


We went back to Sonya & Brandt's to recover from our food coma. They have such a great view of the city from their place! The rooftop was super windy but I couldn't resist the photo opp.





Later that afternoon, we met up with the other half of our group at Off the Grid Picnic at the Presidio - an outdoor picnic with food trucks, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge. We brought all the wine we purchased in Sonoma and several snacks we picked up on our food excursion earlier that day and just relaxed at the park for a few hours. Once again it was a beautiful day! I love California.






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Our last day in San Francisco we took it pretty easy. Alisha flew home the night before and the locals were back to work, so we slept in and started packing up to go home (boo). We met up with Kelly & Matt at Blowfish for Bo's required sushi of the trip. From there, we all walked to the Anchor Steam Brewery. After all the wine we had that weekend, it was time for some beer :) A word of warning if you plan to go here, make your reservations early! We got the last few spots of our tour when we called two months in advance. It's worth it though since the tour and tasting are both free! We tried most of the beers they make and we found a few new ones that we hadn't had before.


 


Adrienne left that afternoon and we were down to the final four. Bo and I had dinner with the Forrests at The Slanted Door, which is a modern Vietnamese restaurant that had just won the James Beard Award for Most Outstanding Restaurant in America. It was incredible, and is located in the Ferry Building so we had a gorgeous view of the sunset that evening.






And just like that our trip was over. We all said our goodbyes, and Bo & I took the red-eye home that night. We had such a fantastic time with everyone. Sonya did all the legwork in finding wineries and restaurants and making reservations for the whole weekend, which really made everything go as smooth as we possibly could have imagined for such a large group. We cannot thank you enough for such a great weekend!! If only we didn't all live so far away and could do this more often :) Until next time...
 




Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Brussels

Since we were already across the pond but we didn't have any extra vacation days to use on this trip (wah! #firstworldproblems), we decided to go somewhere in Europe just for a weekend. It was a pretty easy decision because we were limited to Delta flight options and Marriott hotel locations. From there, we narrowed it down based on other locations we either hadn't been to yet and eliminating those where we wanted to spend any longer than a few days. All signs pointed to Belgium, and on top of that I love Belgian beer, so Brussels quickly became the winner!



Once I finished up the work week, we took a train through the chunnel. This was definitely a one-and-done item off our life list. Extremely underwhelming however very efficient and so much better than a plane. Plus, free wine!



We had quite a few bar suggestions from friends and that was the extent of our planning, so we wasted no time. We mapped out a little bar crawl for ourselves, and Delirium Cafe was by far our favorite. In 2004, they set the Guinness World Record for the most variety of beers commercially available (longest list of beers). We made a valiant effort to try them all but we didn't quite make it ;)



Delirium has three floors of never ending beer. Our first day there, we only knew about the main floor which we enjoyed enough on its own. They serve mostly draught beers and we were wondering where was all the world record variety?! And then we discovered the bottom floor, a beer drinker's heaven. We spent most of our second day here. Every beer is served with a matching glass, which reminded us of Brickstore, a local Atlanta favorite in Decatur. We also went upstairs to check out the top floor but it was pretty tame and only had a few beers on tap. 



Bo and I aren't big on shopping for many souvenirs, so we collect random things...mainly, beer bottle caps. We had so many new caps from this trip to add to our collection. We get the strangest reactions when we ask for them. Usually we have to repeat ourselves several times (and have attempted this in several languages now!), and waiters will often bring us the bottle and then take the cap off in front of us, like it's a bottle of wine. No...we just want to keep the cap. Really, it's pretty simple. Our favorite bartender at Delirium Cafe thought it was a fun collection, so he suggested beers to us purely based on the bottle cap - almost all of them were pretty tasty as well. Win, win.

We weren't too partial though, had to get some draft beers as well!

By total coincidence, our hotel was right across the street from the Brussels Stock Exchange, which at the time was owned by the company I work for, but has since been spun off. Seems I can never get away from work!!




We walked around Grand Place (the main square) that night where we found a cute little restaurant for dinner to watch the full moon. It was stunning!





We did watch a little of the World Cup, although Belgium didn't play until the following Tuesday. So just like in London, once again we barely missed watching a team while visiting their country.








Another common recommendation we received was Floris-Bar, which is an absinthe bar conveniently located right across the street from Delirium. This was my first time trying absinthe, and I did not like it at all. Bo says it's an acquired taste - no thanks. It was also quite a process to watch them prepare it, so it wasn't even worth all the anticipation. Back to beer for me, please.





A few of our favorite food items in Brussels:
  • Delirium beer cheese. No brainer.
  • Mussels. When in Brussels...!
  • Chocolate. Always on obvious choice.
  • French Fries. Supposedly invented in Belgium, not France.
  • And of course, a Belgian waffle. Surprisingly incredible, even at a 1-Euro tourist stand.





We didn't do any sightseeing since there isn't really much to see, although we had to stop by the Manneken Pis. Which literally means peeing boy. It is a tiny little two-foot statue of a boy peeing into a water fountain. And it is the symbol on just about every souvenir you will find in the entire city, and more. Ridiculous.


 
Overall we really enjoyed Brussels. We have no real desire to go back, but it was a great place to go for about 36 hours - any longer is really unnecessary. The people were extremely attractive and friendly, prices were very reasonable, and everyone spoke English and at least two or three other languages. Most importantly we thought the food and drinks were amazing as that was the whole purpose of our weekend. Mission accomplished.