Easter week at Lake Gaston

We had a family trip away for Easter week, but were disappointed with the cool damp weather which hampered recreation plans! My daughters booked a “VRBO” (Vacation Rental By Owner) again on Lake Gaston NC. This year we were on the North side of the lake. The house was spacious, 3 levels of living / bedroom space, and plenty of room for 11 people. We had a great location to sit and ponder the water views. The first two days and the last couple of days we could sit out on the dock and enjoy the water views.

I did enjoy wandering around the yard and admiring the plants. The blooming azaleas were at their peak.

NC Azeleas
Enjoying the garden
I loved seeing everything in bloom

Like last year, we brought our bicycles along. This year, just the hubby and I went out for a ride one afternoon, on the Tobacco Heritage Trail. We went to La Crosse VA where we had been once before and rode about 3.25 miles round trip. Neither of us had been on our bikes since last fall, so a short trip was all the old geezers could manage.

La Crosse bike trail
La Crosse VA at the Tobacco Heritage Trail

On the worst of the rainy days, we ventured to South Hill Virginia and visited a model railroad display at

South Hill Chamber of Commerce
Detailed model railroad display in South Hill
Very detailed display showing the history of the town

The chamber and HO train display were in the old train depot in downtown South Hill. It was fairly obvious to us that a lot of time and effort had gone into the display, and was well funded. It’s worth a stop if you are traveling in the area, and you have a rainy day to contend with. Our other stop that day was to Rosemont of Virginia Winery. We were pleased they could accommodate us without a reservation on that very rainy day. If you are planning a visit, I would recommend making that reservation.

Wine bar at Rosemont of Virginia
beautiful wine bar

There were high top tables and comfortable seating in the bar area, and a couple of other rooms that were filled with small groups.

Comfortable seating for the hubby
The Dry Side Flight
The dry side flight

Food for snacking was available, but we had just come from lunch in South Hill. The flight prices are on the website. I found it to be very reasonably priced, and the wine (all 4) were lovely. I brought a bottle back to our VRBO to enjoy as well.

As a side note; our VRBO was well off the beaten path, so lots of side roads were traveled going to and from the lake. We passed this place twice, and I was ready with the camera the second time. I always love interesting “roof decor”. Since we were on a back road, I asked the hubby to “slow down” a minute so I could shoot a photo. No shooting of animals of course!

rooftop decor
Roof top decoration makes me laugh

This year, I chose to not bring my featherweight sewing machine. There really wasn’t anyplace that I could comfortably set up and not be in the way, so I am glad I left it at home. I did bring my English paper piecing, also known as the never ending project. I have things kitted up and ready to travel and I managed to sit & stitch one double diamond. Even with this project, there really was no good place to work. The one room with good lighting, a quiet sitting room at the entry of the house, only had two comfortable chairs, and were often in use by others. So once I finished my little project, I packed my sewing bag away. I will be working on these double diamonds for a few more years if I am going to get a quilt made. I probably have about 30 or so done and need close to 100 for a queen size quilt.

Finished a double diamond
English Paper piecing 1″ hexi’s

When the weather cooperated, we did enjoy the view from the deck and the dock.

Enjoying the view
dockside view
lots of nice loungers on this dock

Springtime along the East Coast has been very cool overall, and wet. I’m looking forward to our next trip which will take us someplace much warmer! More about that later.

How did you spend April?

Travel Adventures in San Diego California while Cruising

During my 18 day cruise on board the Grand Princess recently, we went to San Diego twice. I tried to book an excursion to the San Diego Zoo through the cruise line, but it was not available. My tour desk consultant recommended the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which is located Escondido, California. The best description comes from their website – “The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located approximately 35 miles northeast of the Zoo, in Escondido, California. The Safari Park, an 1,800-acre wildlife park, is home to more than 3,600 animals representing over 300 species. More than 1 million guests visit each year, and see wildlife in herds of mixed species, in expansive savanna habitats. The Safari Park also maintains a vast accredited botanical collection of more than 1.3 million plant specimens, representing over 3,700 species. Guests are invited to take part in thrilling safari experiences and create lasting memories, while supporting San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts to save wildlife worldwide.

I am pretty certain I covered all 1800 acres. There was a tram tour included with the ticket price, and I took that, but I still walked over 18000 steps according to my Fitbit tracker. Not very far thru the gate of the park, I started seeing the birds.

San Diego Zoo Safari

My photo’s don’t do it justice, because, honestly, I forgot to take photos most of the time. I was just enjoying the activity and the animals.

Flamingos and ducks

Since I was there with my simple “cell phone camera” a lot of shots at a distance were just not easy to get. Zooming in with the phone pixelates the image, and so I took a few, but mostly, just enjoyed the experience.

Gorilla lunch time

What I quickly noticed is things were very spread out in this wildlife park. The other thing was how much work had gone into the horticulture of the park. It was really like an arboretum. The area in California is very dry and arid, so seeing all this plant life carefully set let me know right away how much care was taken to give you a good experience, as well as the animals a good environment. This beautiful walkway led up to the area where the gorillas were housed. Not quite a jungle, but definitely not California desert.

Gorilla walk

This one little area of succulent plantings shows how much care went into the area the guests were visiting.

succulent plantings
Enjoying the greenery

The views of the mountains in the background show a stark contrast in vegetation.

Habitats at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

savanna habitat San Diego Safari Zoo

The Savanna habitat was huge, and to access it, you could take the included tram ride, around the perimeter, or pay extra for a variety of “safari” options. Those options looked very cool, but the price was pretty steep. You certainly got in closer to the animals with those options.

We could see a large variety of animals from zebras to giraffes from our vantage point in the tram. There were elephants and hippos wandering about. The big cats were in another area, separated from the animals they prey on.

Giraffe at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

It was so cool to see the numbers of animals and to see they had a lot of space in their habitat.

Big open spaces for the animals

One thing that was most interesting to me was the California Condors breeding and nesting facility at the top of a hill. If you click on the link above, you can watch the “Condors Cam” during daylight hours. The California Condor was on the brink of extinction in 1987. “The California Condor has been to the brink of extinction—and back. By 1987, habitat degradation, poisoning, and shooting had nearly eliminated the California Condor in the wild. The 22 individuals remaining were captured for captive breeding programs, which are credited with the species’ survival. California Condors are now being reintroduced into the wild each year.” source – https://abcbirds.org/bird/california-condor/ That said, it was a serious hike up the hill to the area where we could view them from a platform. It was well worth the hike to me.

If you ever find your self in Southern California, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a nice destination for the day.

On our second visit to San Diego, I took a wine tasting tour out into Temecula California. Our first stop was the Wilson Creek Winery where we had a lovely lunch before our wine tastings. One of the most interesting things we tasted was a sparkling wine with an almond flavor. It was a lovely refreshing wine. It’s the one bottle I didn’t get a photo of. Our wine guide told us that particular product helped them to meet their 5 year business goal in 3 years, and is a resounding success. The Wilson Creek Winery is a rather newcomer to the wine makers in Temecula, and a lovely place to visit. I thought a “slide show” might let you peak at some of what we tasted and the views we enjoyed. The white Cabernet Sauvignon is very refreshing and not something I had ever tried.

In one area of the tour at Wilson Creek, we were able to see the “artists work” with wine corks. These might motivate you if you have a collection of corks!

Our next visit was to a Mount Palomar Winery, one of the oldest in the region. We had to choose from the menu for our “tastings” with little fanfare and no tour. The only info on the wine we received was from what we were able to gather from the menu. We were given tickets for our tastings, and could enjoy 5 different types. While the wine was nice, the ambiance in the tasting room was a little less than I expected. Walking around the grounds you could see there had been some effort in making outdoor tasting areas, which would have been a lot nicer. Looking further out at the hills, there was a lot of “replanting” and a lot of barren hillsides happening.

The area around Temecula is filled with wineries, and each has their own “special flavor” or style. Our tour guide pointed out a tour happening as we were driving out, and it was a “motorcycle with a double side car”. The rider takes his 2 passengers out for tastings at a variety of wineries and ensures they return safely to their hotel. So, lots of touring opportunities from every comfort level.

Both times we were in San Diego we left late in the evening. The city has a spectacular skyline, and it’s one of those places where you can sit to enjoy the view from the ship too.

San Diego skyline from the ship

There is plenty to do within the city and around the harbor, if you happen to find yourself in San Diego for a day. We’ve been there in the past and done some touring around the harbor, so I enjoyed these visits that took me out of town to something a bit different.

Note….yes, there was adventure in the wine drinking, the food eating and the day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! Big thumbs up to the tour desk on the Grand Princess for suggesting the Safari park and a big thumbs up to the folks who made you feel so at home at the Wilson Creek Winery.

Have you been out having any adventures lately?? Do tell!!

Travel Adventures in Ensenada while cruising

Last post I shared my adventures in Cabo San Lucas. This post is all about Ensenada Mexico. Backstory – I was on a series of 4 and 5 day cruises out of San Pedro California, the port for Los Angeles. The first and third cruise were 5 day round trip going to Cabo San Lucas Mexica, and the second and fourth were 4 day trips going to San Diego and Ensenada. Typically, I never get off the ship in Ensenada, but this trip, I had to use up a bunch of onboard credits.

On my first visit to Ensenada, I booked a tour that involved wine and cheese. This tour came recommended as a replacement for one that had been booked in another port, but cancelled. (More about that when I write about San Diego!).

The description given by the cruise line is as follows (https://www.princess.com/cruise-search/details?voyageCode=R134 )

WHAT YOU VISIT – Baja-Med Cuisine Experience
Your guided tour through the Guadalupe Valley area includes indulging on delicious locally made cheeses, wonderful wine tastings hosted by friendly wine connoisseurs, and lunch at an award-winning Baja-Med restaurant.
Stops on this tour were hand-selected by Bill Esparza, a James Beard award-winner and leading expert on Latin American cuisine.

SHOPPING
Each winery will offer wine at a special ‘cava’ price.

WHAT YOU SEE ALONG THE WAY
As you make your way through Ensenada to Valle de Guadalupe, you’ll find beautiful scenery among majestic mountains and sierras where vineyards blossom during spring and hold their harvest in the fall.

The description did not do the excursion justice! We left the port on a small tour bus, with only a few adventurous individuals and drove through the city and along the coast line, before turning off into the mountains and into the Valle de Guadalupe. As you came over the mountain pass and looked out to the valley, you could see how fertile the area was, full of vineyards and other farming.

Our first stop in the Guadalupe Valley was in the town of Villa de Juarez, at a cheese shop. Sadly, this was our only view, as it turned out to be closed for an emergency.

Cheese shop stop

We were supposed to have made purchases here, snacks for the day, and maybe something to take home. Olives and cheese were the feature we were promised. The tour guides were horrified to find out it was closed, and loaded us all back on the bus to the 2nd stop.

Bodegas De Santo Tomas Cava San Antonio

This stop was our second, and it was lovely! “Bodegas de Santo Tomas has a rich, fascinating history. As the very first winery in Baja California, Santo Tomas was originally founded in 1888 by native Italian Francisco Adonegui and Spaniard Miguel Olmart. ” (https://www.bajaunitedwines.com/santo-tomas/ )

The views around this winery on a hilltop were astounding, and totally unexpected on my first real “off ship” adventure in Ensenada. Enjoy the photos. This first one made me laugh…when you read the label on the glass!

The view thru the wine glass
Who knew….Applebee’s wine glass in Ensenada!
Looking out over the valley

The views just got better and better, and there were so many places to sit and take them all in.

Wonderful areas for wine tasting outdoors

Just after 11 am, we were tasting wine, enjoying the lovely 80 degree temperature, and I was pleased I had packed a little sunscreen!

Enjoying the view and the weather

This jewel of a winery was something to really sit back and enjoy! I’m sure I don’t remember what I tasted, but the companionship of the others on the tour was great, and it was all delicious. There were SO many wonderful places to enjoy the view.

Large tables with a view of the tasting room and the valley
Highly recommend Bodegas De Santo Tomas Cava San Antonio in Guadalupe Valley, Ensenada Mexico

Our next stop took us to Casa Magoni Valle De Guadalupe for another round of wine tasting. Our first pour was at the tasting bar, and I paid better attention to what we were being served. The young server was quite knowledgeable. https://casamagoni.com/en/

This is a small, family run winery that has been in business since the late 1990’s. They certainly have an appealing product and lovely presentation.

Casa magoni Valle De Guadalupe
Delightful white wine

We carried our wine glasses with us to the seating area, under this wonderful oak tree. It was a lovely place, in nature, to sit in the shade and enjoy the offerings.

Our seating area under the oak tree

Our small little group filled a table, and enjoyed the dappled sunlight as the wine was served.

Sitting under the oak tree

Our second pour was equally nice, and I made a point to capture a photo of the wine label. Maybe I will find it at home someday.

our second pour

Because we missed our cheese shop stop, our wonderful tour guides made arrangements at this vineyard for something lovely to nibble while we enjoyed our wine. Just take a look at the delights we were able to enjoy with our wine. (Note….this was all before lunchtime!!)

Delightful snacks
Delightful cheeseboard

It was just what we needed and everyone felt refreshed with a bit of bread and cheese and olives

Our next our of Magoni wine was a Sangiovese Cabernet wine. It was spectacular!

Magoni Sangiovese cabernet wine

Just look at that color. The flavor was lovely.

Sangiovese Cabernet wine
beautiful ruby

Our final stop on this tour was for a wine pairing with lunch at Finca Altozano http://fincaltozano.com/

OH MY GOSH….what an amazing experience !!! The “Med/Mex” blend of food was beyond description, along with the setting and views. Go look at the link and then come back! If you are ever in BAJA California….make a reservation and go spend the afternoon, eating lunch, drinking wine, and enjoying the views. This was the best time ever!!!

Finca Altozano

My photo’s don’t do the food and the flavors justice. Take a look and let me know if your mouth is watering, and take a look at the faces of my table companions. Everything from grilled octopus cooked in soy sauce, citrus, ginger cilantro and roasted peanuts to a lovely “panzanela” salads and garden risotto, and roasted lamb. The menu at the link below shows the wonderful food options and descriptions. It might might give you an idea of the abundance of local flavors. Those gardens in the photos account for the freshness of the food. My friends at the table were stabbing the last bites of octopus and Portobello mushrooms, to not leave a bite behind. Honestly, if you asked, I would tell you I don’t eat lamb. This was the loveliest lamb I never ordered and so delicious. – https://stitchinggrandma.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/86ddb-eng-27ago21.pdf

The views of the gardens were stunning and the variety of seating for dining was amazing. (So were the tortillas, and bread, made by hand right on site.)

How do you top this kind of adventure…..well….you have to return to Ensenada. And, I will NEVER “not get off the ship” when I do. Years past I would only get off and shop right in the stores in the port, but they all closed due to COVID and have not been reopened.

When I returned the following week, I really had a hard choice to make….food/wine or action/adventure!!

I chose the “action / adventure”…but got surprised by a little wine at the end! I signed up for an excursion that was an ATV ride in/around the wine country of the Guadalupe Valley near Ensenada. Sadly, the tour cancelled because NOT enough adventurous people signed up. When I went to the tour desk, my favorite tour employee explained I was the “only” brave soul on the ship! Imagine that! He made a recommendation to me to try the “Baja Off Road Buggy Adventure” and I took his advice.

When we boarded the bus, there were just 7 of us on that adventure. On our way, the tour guide showed us the official “downtown” area of Ensenada, complete with red sidewalks! This was to help the “tourists” find their way around town I guess. We road the small bus again up to the Guadalupe Valley and beyond to a small village, called Santa Rosa, off of dirt roads. Once we turned off the main roads, it was a bumpy ride into the village.

We were given bandanas to wear over our nose and mouth, goggles and helmets, and directions on how to operate the dune buggy. Because I was taking this adventure on my own, I was the sole occupant in the buggy, doing the driving. I took my place as “last in line” because I wasn’t sure quite how fast I wanted to drive. There were lots of warnings about possible roll overs, so I erred on the side of caution. We were instructed to “follow the buggy ahead” and slow down if we can’t see thru the dust. As Baja is rather dry, there was a LOT of dust. There was an ATV following our group, and I am sure I spoiled his “fast ride” because I did “slow down” in the dust so I could see where the road was going and where the rocks and ruts in the dirt trail were!

My dune buggy for the ride

We did a little hill climbing as the blue line on the map shows. At the 1/2 way stop we had a chance to look back at the hills and trail we had just ridden while we stretched our legs and drank a little water. The shade was appreciated! We had great laughs, looking at each other and how covered in dust we all were!!! My charcoal grey sweater was going to need a good wash!

We had to slow down as a group a couple of times to allow for the roaming cattle in one of the villages we went through. Most of our ride was in an area that was unpopulated.

Just a little dusty

We were so dusty at the end of the ride that the guide got out the electric leaf blower, and had us all line up to get blown off! Just brought home a little of the Baja with me. After the ride, and the “clean up” we did a little “wine tasting” to wash the dust off! (Of course, we drank a ton of water before that….). There was a little “snack window” where we could purchase food, and I chose a bag of chips to go with my dust and wine! They looked and tasted like Lay’s Potato chips, but had a different name. I didn’t mind at all.

The guides poured the wine and encouraged us to enjoy as much as we like, as he had no other groups coming that day.

This couple offering the tour / wine tasting are brother and sister, and they were such a delight. So, we all enjoyed the wines, each of us had a favorite. I liked the Chardonnay the best, and even the “non-wine” people said they were very nice.

When we went back to the ship the first thing I did was put those dusty clothes in a plastic packing bag for laundry at home! Even my shoes were coated in brown dust. The tour guide had said, you don’t look like Gringo’s any more!! We all had that nice “brown” look of the locals, but it was just dust!

My sister took a small shuttle bus trip from the port into downtown for shopping, and there were only a few people on the bus for the short trip. If you are physically able, walking to the downtown for shopping is about a 15-20 minute walk. She was fortunate and had a guide take her to all the places she asked to see, including a restaurant for a delicious lunch. She could not have walked the distance so the bus ride was a great option. She said the food was great and all the shops were happy to have her browse.

I know that when I go to Ensenada next time that I will be “off the ship” for some adventure and food, and I would encourage anyone traveling there to take a look at the Guadalupe Valley wineries, restaurants and other activities. Heck, next time I might just go downtown to eat fish tacos!

Where ever you go, what ever you do, choose to have an adventure!! More in another post about my fun at our San Diego port of call!