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Monday, July 14, 2014

Napa Valley with My Uncle

Sebastien and I have not traveled with my family much (which I hope changes in the near future), but my uncle invited us to join he and his wife in Napa Valley over the Fourth of July weekend.  He has some great business connections, and we were able to experience Napa unlike most others.  We met in San Francisco and headed straight to Carmel for two days.  Then, we headed north to Napa.  Memorable trip!

 Carmel (Highlands Resort)

We explored the Carmel area visiting the Point Lobos State Reserve. There are several trails to take and beautiful sites to see.
 Allen (my uncle)

Then, we headed to Pebble Beach.  I know my Dad was envious.  We had lunch overlooking the 18th green.

Our first day in Napa we headed to Chandon Domaine to sample some sparkling wine.

On Saturday, the "real" wine tour began.  My uncle's friend met us and took us to three private tastings.  We received royal treatment and enjoyed each vineyard.  Our first stop (at 9:30 am) was at Robert Biale vineyard, which is known for its Zinfandel.  Their most famous wine is the Black Chicken, which was the code name used for their wine during Prohibition.

 We were able to do some barrel tasting from the 2013 vintage.

Then, we headed to the Boyd vineyard, which was our favorite.  The Boyds are a lovely couple who left the business executive world to open a vineyard.  We were able to enjoy the wine tasting in their home.  They were incredibly hospitable and welcoming, as were their dogs.

 We tasted wine around their back porch table.

 Happy Man

 I look a little vampire-ish with the red wine teeth.

Our final stop was at Chase vineyard.  Many of their vines are over 100 years old.  They use a dry vineyard method where they do not irrigate the vines.  Some vine roots reach 30-50 feet below the surface to reach water.

Napa is lovely, and I am sure that we will return!  In the meantime, we have wine on the way to remind us of each place.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mediterranean Cruise: Greece

After visiting Turkey, our expectations of the region were high, and Santorini lived up to them!  Santorini is one of those places you see on postcards, and we completely understand why.  We had to get tendered in to the port, and there were three ways to the top - 600 steps (no thank you), a donkey ride (uh, not even a consideration), or a cable car ride (of course, the obvious choice).  So, once on the island, we headed up the quick cable car ride.  We rented ATVs and explored the island.

 Village of Oia

 Notice the indoor/outdoor pool.  We want to come back to stay in one of these hotels sometime!

 During the Ottoman reign, the Greek citizens were not able to fly their flags.  So, on the island (and maybe other places in Greece), the citizens painted their houses white and blue, which were the colors of their flag.

 We saw mainly black lava beaches.

Our second stop in Greece was on the mainland in Katakolon.  We rented a car and headed to Olympia.  The site of the first Olympics.  There used to be a temple to Zeus in Olympia and athletes would come to compete in the games and worship Zeus.

 Entrance Gate

 Marble starting line for the races, which were in a straight line, not in an oval as we run today.

 There were still pillars that remained with the names of Olympic game winners engraved in them.  I found this is to be incredible!  Can you imagine your name still known 3000 years after your life for winning an athletic competition?  There were also pillars with names of cheaters engraved on them.  It was illegal to drink blood before your competition, and there were urine testers to check for cheaters!

In the museum next to the Olympic site, there were statues from the tympanum on the Temple of Zeus.

After Greece, we headed back on a windy, cool cruising day to Venice.

Mediterranean Cruise: Ephesus, Turkey

The second port stop was Kusadasi, Turkey.  In the morning, we headed to Ephesus with an official cruise excursion.  Then, we spent the remainder of the day on our own in the Kusadasi bazaar.

While we were in Ephesus, we were able to tour ruins of the ancient city where the early Christian Ephesians lived.  It is extraordinary to experience history in a place where the historical sites are not hundreds, but thousands of years old.  Our tour guide was a bit long winded, which made it difficult to soak in the reality of where we stood.  Regardless, it is amazing!

Ephesus used to border to the sea, which is now 30 minutes away.  The area has filled in with sediment from rivers.

This section of Ephesus is our equivalent of the Magnificent Mile or Fifth Avenue.  It was the place of luxury.

The mosaic floors in the ritzy area.  Isn't it amazing that the floors still exist?!?

Public toilets - you could fill in all kinds of comments here!

Library of Celsus (Celcius)
This library was the third largest in ancient times housing 12,000 scrolls.  The builders used an optical illusion making the outer columns shorter than those in the center to make the building appear greater.

This amphitheatre seats 25,000.

Bazaar in Kusadasi - Sebastien LOVES places like the bazaar.  It was a fun experience (reminded us of the fake markets in Dubai) to buy treasures and gifts in the bazaar.  Of course, there were stores with "junk", but there were also stores housing amazing art - handwoven silk rugs, intricate ceramic plates and vases, and this beauty of a table (below).

We (especially Sebastien) were awestruck by this side table.  It is a true piece of art, made with a labor of love.  It took the carpenter 18 months to build the table.  

 Here is a piece of one design on the table.

And, here is how it is made.  Pieces of wood, coral, bone, and other elements are placed together in a pattern, and then the top is cut off to see the beautiful pattern. In Turkey, the government subsidizes the income of artisans to keep their cultural art alive.  The subsidy ensures that the art is still affordable to customers while allowing talented individuals to practice their true skill and passion.  As I heard this fact, I was somewhat saddened that in our Western, all about the money, part of the world, we degrade the career of artists as if their work is not as valuable as a successful banker, business owner, doctor, lawyer, etc.  But art is one aspect of life that has intangible value - it showcases beauty, which I believe allows us to see a glimpse of God's glory who created the creativity artists possess.  Ok - enough of my soapbox - after some major end-of-the-day bartering by Sebastien, we received the table at our house last week.  

We want to explore more of Turkey and hope to visit Istanbul soon.  Next, we were off to Greece.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Mediterranean Cruise - Split, Croatia

After our first night on the Splendour of the Seas, we awoke to see Split, Croatia.  It is a picturesque port city. When Sebastien and I watched the James Bond movie Casino Royale several years ago, we quickly commented that we wanted to visit Montenegro.  Split reminded me of the beautiful scenes from Montenegro (Both were part of former Yugoslavia).  At one point in its history, Split was part of the Roman Empire.  The Roman Emperor Diocletian built a palace on the coast sometime between the 3rd & 4th centuries A.D.  We were able to see many ruins from the palace.  Split is the first place where I have seen such fluidity between ancient ruins and modern life.  The citizens of Split utilize different parts of the palace as part of their local commerce.  You can find shops, markets, and restaurants within the walls of the ancient ruin.  The old and new are interwoven in a way that makes it seem natural, as if it is supposed to work that way.

 Part of Diocletian's Palace

 Gregorius of Nin - Croatian Bishop in 10th Century

 Isn't this the coziest restaurant that you have ever seen!  It is on the second floor in a section of the palace.  Amazing to eat lunch within the walls of a Roman Emperor's home.  Let that sink in - what will we have to show from our time in two thousand years?