Category Archives: Travel

DME: Frei Brothers Article

( @zanelamprey, #FreiBrothers )

Drinking Made Easy posted the 2nd part of my California Vineyards series. This article is about a visit to the super secret-Frei Brothers vineyard which is not open to the public.

Check it out: Drinking Made Easy: A Visit to Frei Brothers Vineyard

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DME: MacMurray Vineyards

( @zanelamprey, #MacMurray )

Drinking Made Easy has posted another article. This one is about my trip to MacMurray vineyard in California. Check it out:

A Visit to MacMurray Vineyard

Also since the good people at Kress made this article possible, if you are in South Jersey, stop by today and during the holidays to get a nice bottle of wine by good people. You know they are good, I married into their family 😉

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2011 California Vacation

I went on a trip to the California wine country and I found America. I wasn’t looking for her by any means. I wasn’t interested in finding picturesque landscapes that would make pretty post cards, but I found them and in a very American way: in a car and just driving.

As soon as we landed in San Fransisco International, we scrambled to get the rental car and we just went. My wife and I drove almost 100 miles away from the city and then took the whole route back on the iconic Route 1 coastal highway. There are miles of unmolested landscape and ocean. Mountains, fields, and for huge stretches, no people… it was fantastic. We stopped and stretched our legs, checked out some scenic stops and then we kept moving on. We had some authentic Mexican food at little road stop and then we continued to Napa for the night (and got snagged in a few hours of iconic American traffic).

The next morning we headed off to Sonoma for a private tour of MacMurray Ranch. This ranch was owned by Fred MacMurray, star of “My Three Sons”. The scope of this place blew my mind. It is 1100 acres of fields and mountains. The Gallo family purchased the property in the late 1990s after MacMurray died and converted it into a vineyard. Fred’s family is still involved with the property which is a nice touch.

The idea of holding that much property is astounding to me (not in a critical way). Past generations seemed to understand that you can’t over manage the land. Fred MacMurray left hundreds of acres alone (Gallo actually has a policy about that as well which is very cool). After we toured the ranch, we were taken down the road to see one of Gallo’s other non-public vineyards that was massive. I am going to do an actual write up about these places for Drinking Made Easy, but for the sake of this post, just walk away with the idea of land as far as the eye can see with mountains, trees, and in some cases grapes. I think I understand the imperial-land-grabbing-blood-lust of our forefathers.

The primary reason we went to California was to see Ryan Adams. I covered that already (read here). The show was great and the venue was small and intimate. It was a perfect night.

The next day we headed to San Francisco. We spent most of the day walking around the city without an objective. We went to China Town and Little Italy. We ate a nice dinner recommended to us by one of the local bakery owners (Michelangelo’s if you need to know). By the time we finished it was dark, so we took a cab back to the hotel and called it a night.

Tuesday morning we found ourselves on Golden Gate Bridge. We walked across as far as we could but didn’t get to the end because it was closed. We spent some time in the Golden Gate Park, walking up and down hills before it was time for lunch. We wanted to do Dim Sum. We went to an authentic dim sum place. Too authentic. I was excited when we walked in and saw only Asian people – I knew this place was the real deal. But then I noticed no menu and servers walking around with carts. Nobody really spoke English and I didn’t know what I was ordering. I managed to get my hands on some beef soup during the 30 minutes we were in there (one bowl), before we decided to split (paying was also interesting, I don’t think I was supposed to get up and pay myself – oh well). We ended up back in Little Italy which was not the plan at all, but we had a nice lunch at the Stinking Rose and we were served by Count Dracula, who was very nice (no I will not explain any further).

We walked around the city some more to burn off lunch and then went back to the hotel to clean up. I booked dinner reservations at “The House of Prime Rib” and decided that I needed to get in an extra run to burn off what I knew we going to be a calorie fest in the evening. I managed to get the gym completely empty and it overlooked the city in a small panoramic room. It was dusk and I was able to overlook the city which is a nice way to spend time on a treadmill.

Dinner was completely insane. This place served only one thing: Prime Rib. Salad, two sides. That’s it. It was perfect. Going back to my ghosts of America, this place was a call back to another time. Martinis and red meat. Baked potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Classic.

In the morning, we found a nice little place (Honey, Honey) to get a simple breakfast and got ready for our flights home. Of course the flights were delayed and we ended up in Vegas, but that is all part of travel in the modern age. It is hard to get mad when you look down and see hundreds of miles of untouched landscapes and realize that there is still room to grow.

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Concert Review: Ryan Adams @ The Uptown Theater (Napa, Ca)

( @theRyanAdams, #Napa, @JasonIsbell )

Opening Act: Jason Isbell
Date: Saturday, October 15th, 2011
Location: Uptown Theater – Napa, Ca

When Ryan Adams announced he was taking a break a few years ago I really wondered if he was going to play live again. Articles about Meniere’s disease and burn out made it seem like it could be a long time before a tour would be a reality. In the spring, Ryan announced select dates in Europe and I started putting away some money for a trip to California (Europe was too expensive, and I figured he might do a few dates near his home), he surprised many with a full blown tour. Long story short: I get to see him twice this year, as you can see in this review, I have no complaints.

[Opening Act: Jason Isbell]

Normally, I do a little research on opening acts, but I have been so busy with work that I completely forgot to do it. When Jason Isbell walked on stage and announced he was Muscle Shoals, Alabama I whispered to my wife “I wonder if he is in The Drive By Truckers” thanks to an piece I heard about them on NPR. He quickly confirmed my suspicions.

Isbell was sublime. I am so glad that I didn’t know much about him or his material because I had a chance to absorb his performance without any expectations. He is an outstanding guitar player and singer. Isbell has a natural way of bantering with the audience that comes from experience. Jason did a song that was based on a conversation with his dad that really sent a shiver up my spine. I can’t wait to get home and track down this guy’s back catalog because he is such a good songwriter.

[The Main Event: Ryan Adams]

Ryan Adams was excellent in every way last night. Since the venue held under 1,000 people and the show was billed as an acoustic performance, it was a very intimate. The one thing that stood out to me (after having gone to several Ryan Adams concerts) – is just how good his voice sounded. Ryan’s ability to convey emotion through his voice is often overlooked in favor of his prolific songwriting, but his voice might be the greatest weapon in his arsenal.

This was most definitely a thank you show to the fans. He played the perfect mix of “greatest hits”, new tunes, and fan favorites. Since he was solo, he tweaked several songs to make up for the lack of a band. The subtle changes were welcome and kept me listening for the changes. Ryan did a really nice solo at the end of “I see Monsters” that was new but fit perfectly. I am not going to rattle off every tune Adams played, but I am happy to have witnessed live performances of “Winding Wheel” and his piano version of “New York, New York” (they were awesome).

Ryan bantered with the crowd throughout the show. There was no tension. A few people in the crowd shouted out requests, but Ryan took it in stride and moved on with his set list. He broke out several improvised songs about people moving around going to the bathroom (it was funny, he kept asking them to come back, “Its not 2004!”). And the end of the main set, Adams soaked in the applause of the crowd. I have been to several Ryan Adams concerts in the past where he ran off the stage at the end of the show, it was nice to say thank you properly this time.

Ryan came back out and did a few tunes with Jason Isbell. He ended the show with an old Whiskeytown song “Jacksonville Skyline” – it was a fitting and satisfying ending to a memorable performance.. This show was a mutual love note between Ryan and the crowd and I am really glad I had a chance to witness it.

[The Curse]

I can’t do a concert review without sharing crowd experiences. I thought I was going to break the curse last night and not have any issues with an audience member because this was a fan oriented show. Wrong. There were four girls in front of us that talked THE ENTIRE TIME. At first the main offender was trying to keep it low, so it was easy to ignore her, but as the night progressed they all got sloppy drunk. She had to sing every song. She was told several times to quiet down, but as they got drunker she just laughed. Did I want to push her down the steps at the end of the night? I can’t say (yes). Oh well – at least she knew the words…

UPDATE:
Ryan posted this clip from the show on his facebook page

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DME: The Maine Event

( @drinkingmadeasy, #Maine )

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A Trip to Acadia National Park (Maine) – 2011

( #Maine, #Acadia )

For the last 7 months I have been keeping a secret from my wife. A vacation. Logistically I had to tell her when we were going so she could ask for the week off, but no other details. As for the location, my cousin and I planned the trip after I complained about two failed attempts to visit Maine over the last five years. Over the months, we figured out the details and played out the surprise last Friday for hilarious effect (right before we left I told my wife we were going to the Jersey shore much to her disappointment).

The drive to Maine (and specifically Acadia) was long, about 12 hours from Philadelphia. We ended up stopping on the way up, but the next day was smooth sailing. When we got to the house we rented, we were all really happy. It was directly on the bay which gave us daily access to kayaking (which we did). The homeowners had the house perfectly stocked with the things you would need and I would highly recommend staying there (but book early!).

We spent the majority of our time (while not kayaking) in Acadia. So here is a quick rundown of the things we did (in case there is an interest in repeating it).

Ship Harbor Nature Trail:

This was a really easy nice trail that lead to a rocky beach which offered extra challenge because we ditched the trail and just followed the rocks. When playing on wet rocks, you always have to watch your footing. I definitely had concerns about breaking my face open a few times on this trip, but then I would see my cousin’s 10-year-old son sailing over the rocks and I just went with it.

After the trail, we went to Jordon Pond which has a popular restaurant. This place is a bit of an overpriced tourist trap but they offer popovers which are like biscuit muffins that I didn’t see anywhere else. They were worth the trip alone (just order some soup and a bunch of them).

The Bowl/Beehive Trails:

While most of this trip was spend on some kind of trail (and they honestly started to blur together in hindsight), one that will stick out is the Bowl/Beehive. I actually picked the bowl trail out as an activity because it was said to be a little more difficult and had a nice view (I was craving a difficult trail). When we got there, my cousin’s son wanted to do the beehive trail. All I saw was a sign that warned of using mettle rungs and I was out. Somehow my extremely cautious cousin agreed to go on the beehive with his son while we went through the bowl trail. While the bowl was strenuous, the beehive was dangerous:

When we connected with my cousin, he was shaking and really regretted going through it. He said once you hit the tough spots, there is no going back so you have to move forward. Anybody thinking about doing it, take that warning.

Thunder Hole:

Thunder Hole is a rocky section of the park that has a small underground cave system that makes a rumbling noise when the tide comes in. While interesting, the “hole” is one of the most popular spots in the park and there were a ton of people hanging around. The masses ruined it just because the nice part of being at the park is you don’t have to be surrounded by people since there are so many options.

Several people ignored the gates and got close to the water. A few people die each year by rouge waves coming in and sucking people off the rocks. I saw quite a few parents letting their kids go to the edge and it totally bugged me out, I was glad to leave.

After Thunder Hole we went to Hunter’s Beach. It is a small stone beach and nobody was there. The current makes an awesome sound as it sucks in the rocks with each wave pulling back. Easily a favorite find.

Dining:

My cousin and I cooked almost every night. I am not a seafood guy (please don’t start) but everybody else was. My cousin’s wife managed to find a guy (by following signs) named Rat that had fresh lobsters and clams. My cousin said Rat’s clams were the best he ever had in his life and I believed him. Rat didn’t have 2+ lb lobsters on the day everyone wanted to cook them, so he called a lobster-man buddy and got us what we needed.

The cool thing about Rat is that we just found him, nothing was planned. He was the typical Maine accent and lived on this crazy farm. If it was the end of the world, I would have no doubt that good old Rat would be breathing easy in his house in the middle of nowhere.

We found a gem of a place in Southwest Harbor. It is called Quiet Side Cafe. My cousin and I were walking down the street looking for supplies for dinner when we spotted a blueberry pie cooling on a side window. Like a cartoon we were drawn inside and had a great meal and met some really nice people (I ordered Pizza – in Maine – and they knocked it out of the park). Owner Frances Reed was incredibly welcoming and the place had a great vibe. You must go there if you are in the area.

All of the other restaurants were fine. Order fish. My cousins said they never had a bad meal when it came to the fish. I didn’t have any bad meals myself, but nothing to blog about either 😉

Closing Thoughts:

With the weather never breaking 80 degrees (and sometimes getting close to going under 50 at night), Maine it my kind of summer vacation. I did what I wanted, wasn’t on a schedule, and got to romp around in a truly magnificent place for a week. If I had to complain about anything, it would be the mosquitoes – they were merciless, but that still didn’t prevent us from going outside and having a good time.

I would absolutely recommend this trip to friends and any families that don’t want to do the typical Disney boxed vacation – you can be the master of your own destiny.

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The Girl with the Broken Vagina

( #badsex, #hotels )

It was late. We had been in the car for eight hours and my cousin wanted to make sure his kids had a bed to sleep in. We were somewhere in Massachusetts and my phone’s GPS told us to go to a Radisson in Clemsford. They had rooms and the price was right. Off we went.

After a minor issue with an AC unit requiring a room change, my wife, cousin, and I went to the hotel bar for drink. The people at the bar were young and had a redneck vibe about them, but we were north. I then overheard that they were part of a large wedding party staying at the hotel. Two drinks in, I went to bed.

I woke up having slept through what I thought was a pretty uneventful evening. My wife looked like she did not sleep at all. “Ugh… the people next door were having sex all night, the girl was loud.” “Did you say anything” I asked sheepishly. She said that somebody told them to “shut the f**k up” and they apologetically stopped. She then mentioned that the girl asked her lover to “do it again” and “put it back in” several times.

I was somewhat grateful I was able to sleep, but sad I didn’t get to mock my new neighbors, until they started having sex again. My wife was right – it was LOUD. The dude didn’t seem to be making much noise, but she was a peacock in full bloom for the whole world to take notice of.

We walked over to my cousins room to relay the story (in code and quietly so the kids didn’t catch on). There was talk of breakfast, so I went back to the room to grab money when I heard crying next door. I just assumed it was a drunken lover’s quarrel and went on my way. My cousin and I went downstairs to his car and noticed a firetruck, police car, and ambulance pulling up. At first I thought heart attack, but then I mention to my cousin that I would not be surprised if it was our neighbors. He looks at me and says “what the hell could he have done to her?” I didn’t know. I asked the fireman what was going on, he just said “someone got hurt” and kind of smiled.

When we got to the fourth floor, the emergency crew was in front of our neighbors door. As we passed by we heard the girl say “there is so much pressure, I feel like I am giving birth.” I grinned at my cousin as he gave me an admonished look for not having more sympathy. None shall be given. My wife, cousin, his wife, and I stood in the hall as they took the girl out in a stretcher, her lower area on ice. I gave her “Ed-Hardy-shirt” wearing paramour a salute as they took her away, to repair the vagina he destroyed so thoroughly.

As he walked down the hall with a concerned look in his face, I couldn’t help but notice the stride in his step and the acceptance of knowing nods. The girl may have been shamed, but this young man earned himself a reputation and a story that will live on for years to come, at the very least in this little social circle.

NOTE: Having said all that, we all have our suspicions that the girl’s front door was fine and it was indeed that back door that might have inflicted some serious injury. Thoughts to ponder indeed.

NOTE 2: Since this post was published on father’s day, I also want to point out that this woman was some man’s daughter. Doing her best to make daddy proud!

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DME: King Family Vineyards

( #KingVineyard, @drinkingmadeeasy )

Drinking Made Easy was kind enough to publish my story about a visit to a Virginia Vineyard, check it out:

Drinking Made Easy: A Visit to King Family Vineyards

Update: It looks like DME’s new website broke the links to the articles, here is the whole story:

The term wine country might invoke visions of the French country side or the sunny hills of Napa Vally… now allow your mind to think about Virginia. Not following? I recently took a trip to Charlottesville, VA to visit family. Knowing that I write for this blog, they suggested a trip to King Family Vineyards to sample the local wines and have a nice day in the sun, how could I resist?

Like most of you, Virginia is not my first thought when it comes to vino. But why not? My home state of New Jersey is making excellent progress in wine production and quality (another article for another day – I promise), why should Virginia be ignored? When I pulled into the vineyard, it looked like a massive outdoor picnic was taking place: families had blankets laid down with baskets of cheese, crackers, and (of course) bottles of wine. Children were playing ring toss and throwing around bean bags. Several dogs were lazily dozing under a large tree enjoying the sun.

A lovely picture, but what about the wine? It was very good. I introduced myself to a young lady presenting a sampling and she gladly allowed me to join the group. She handed me a glass of their Roseland 2010 and I was on my way. I don’t typically drink white wine (preferring red), but the Roseland had a pleasant sweetness that was not overbearing. Making my way through their entire series of whites, I was impressed with the variation and flavor. Another stand out was the 2010 Crose which was light and tangy.

I feel like I need to state that I am not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy wine and I even make it yearly with my family, but I do not have the most refined palate: if I like it, I like it. I was ready for the red wine by the time the hostess opened the first bottle. The standout of the red sampling was King’s 2009 Meritage. It featured hints of sweetness with an undercurrent of spice. Around this time my father-in-law walked over with cheese and crackers and informed us that he had found a table. I attempted to make contact with a vineyard representative for an interview, but they were really busy that day (I called ahead, but they warned me it would be tough). Instead of stressing about it, I walked over to my father-in-law’s table and he greeted me with an open bottle ready to be poured. He filled my glass and I sat down thinking I couldn’t find a nicer way to spend an afternoon.

King Family Vineyard is located in Crozet, Virginia and is about a 20 minute drive from downtown Charottesville. If you happen to find yourself in the area, I recommend you take a drive to the vineyard and enjoy a nice glass of Virginia wine.

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Nashville: 2010

( #Nashville, #ThirdMan, #Hermitage )

Last week I spent a lovely weekend in Nashville. This was my 2nd trip to the city, my first was documented right here. This time we traveled with friends (Rob and Lisa) to see an Avett Brothers concert. We ended up repeating a few things and doing some new stuff. Here is the breakdown.

[Bellmead Plantation]
Website: http://www.bellemeadeplantation.com/

I knew our friend Lisa would really enjoy the Bellemead (which we visited last year). There didn’t seem to be much damage from the floods and overall was a good experience, but I am not going to re-hash.

[Cheekwood Gardens]
Website: http://www.cheekwood.org/

We also visited Cheekwood Gardens again to check out the new Chihuly glass exhibits. Last time we were there, we had to rush because they were closing, this time we walked around on a great sunny day.

The grounds were beautiful and worth checking out, but the Chihuly glasswork was “meh”. If you see one, you have seen them all.

[Bars]
Our first night in Nashville we went around the downtown area popping into as many bars as we could to take in all the bands. Most bands did mixes of country and pop tunes to appease the tourists like me. My friend Rob is a huge nerd for country music, so he really enjoyed himself.

All of the bars are essentially laid out the same in the downtown area – stage by the door, long narrow room, bar close to the stage. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

[Loveless Cafe]
Website: http://www.lovelesscafe.com/

The next morning, we were all planning on going to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast (another repeat), but the line was around the corner, so we opted for the Loveless Cafe. Allison had found about this place and the famous “Biscuit Lady.” I didn’t think we would have the time to go, but I was pleased that the Pantry was packed because the Loveless was excellent.

We opted to get a sit down all you can eat of breakfast meats, fruits, and of course biscuits. I won’t lie – I ate way too many of the famous biscuits and felt sick for most of the day, but screw it, it was worth it. The cafe is a little commercial, but if that’s what it takes for them to say in business, so be it.

[Third Man Records]
Website: http://www.thirdmanrecords.com

I wasn’t going to Nashville without checking out Jack White’s music store. As we approached, they were setting up the front for a private Halloween party (which sounded like an awesome time from the news I read last week).

Third Man Records was much smaller than I had expected, but it was charming and I am glad it is doing business. I pick up some interesting vinyl while there, which I will review at another time.

[The Hermitage]
Website: http://www.thehermitage.com

Our friend Lisa wanted to check out the historic home of Andrew Jackson. The grounds were spectacular and the staff was friendly. Touring the house and the garden was educational and very interesting.

As I mentioned in my 2009 Epilogue, Nashville struggles with their past as a Southern state with slave history. They use soft super politically correct terms to refer to slaves and they try to make it seem that the slaves lives weren’t so bad. The Hermitage tour incorporate the slaves like they were friendly characters from a book. While it is good that their stories are a main part of the tour, it seems to make their experience less harsh.

[Avetts/Ryman]

We closed out our time in Nashville with an excellent concert (that I already reviewed here). The Ryman was an excellent place to see a show.

[Conclusion]

We packed in a lot of activities for 2 days, and like any good town, Nashville had me wanting more when I left. Looking forward to the next trip to the city of music, where I might just keep driving to Memphis too.

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