I love to check out the local shopping scene when we go on vacation. Not even a pandemic can stop me (COVID safe shopping, only, though). Healdsburg is a small town but has some definite shopping gems. Most of these are located in the vicinity of the downtown plaza and are within a few blocks of each other. My recommendation would be to spend an afternoon wandering the streets around the plaza. Start by grabbing a coffee. Then wander a bit. Perhaps later you will be ready for an ice cream cone or slice of pie. Then more wandering. You might even pop into a tasting room or two before checking out the streets one last time.
There are lots of fun shops and I didn’t get an opportunity to adequately explore (damn rain). Below, however, are a few of my favorites.
Zizi is a fun clothing store one block off the main plaza. My daughter snagged a lovely jumpsuit here. Spacious store, not crowded.
Anthem Home, located just across the street from Oakville Grocery, has a beautiful selection of home decor. Relatively spacious store. Friendly staff.
Oakville Grocery is a Healdsburg standby. Located just off the main square, this is a mash up of food and goods. There are breakfast items, sandwiches and salads to go as well as a coffee bar. You can also purchase specialty food items, bottles of wine and fun local goods (oils, preserves, spreads, kitchen gear, etc). There is an outdoor seating area if you choose to consume your food purchases on site. COVID friendly? Kind of. They follow all the recommended protocols but the store is small and can quickly get crowded. Spoiler alert: the service here is SLOW! It takes a really long time for food orders to be prepared. I’m talking 20-30 minutes for sandwiches to go. Plan accordingly.
Healdsburg Running Company is the local running store, located just a block or two off the main square. This place is fabulous! Wide selection of running apparel, shoes and accessories with some of the best service around. I stopped in here because, as a runner, I wanted to check it out, but also because I didn’t pack enough warm clothes for this trip and thought I might find some solutions in here. I left with a few pairs of socks, Vuori joggers, and a Vuori sweatshirt, as well as shorts and a running hat for my daughter. I talked local running trails with the staff, one of whom also happened to know about the running community in my hometown. They also host various runs during the week which I would love to take advantage of on my next trip there.
Next up….the Jam Jar. I love this cute little jewelry and accessory shop located just around the corner from the running store. This little piece of paradise features local, hand made, ethically sourced and up-cycled jewelry, art and accessories. It has become my tradition in recent years to buy jewelry as souvenirs when I travel and the Jam Jar allowed me to keep this tradition alive. I found some great earrings and a necklace for myself as well as earrings and hairpins to take back to friends as gifts. My daughters found a few lovely pieces as well. The owner was really friendly and helpful. The shop is small but we were the only customers there and felt quite safe.
All in all, a diverse line up of shopping treasures. Enjoy!
Most of my travel posts will include a section at the end entitled “The Cost of Doing Business”. This is a list format reporting of the costs associated with that trip, or that segment of the trip. I will attempt, where applicable, to indicate how many people are included in the costs.
Travel costs can, of course, be significant. Additionally, we all have different values when it comes to how we spend our dollars. You might be a bare bones traveler for whom the experience is everything and not dependent on any luxuries. Likewise, you might find your self splurging on some things while controlling costs on others. Very few will travel with reckless financial abandon (no judgment here if you can swing that, though!).
You will likely ascertain my style after a posting or few. I like to think of myself as a traveler with high standards but endless patience for finding the very best value. I am very discerning about where I choose to lay my head at night. I will search and search for a good bargain but rest assured, I am willing to pay for quality lodging. I also love good food and good wine. That doesn’t mean they have to be expensive, but sometimes they are and that’s okay by me. I make up for my occasionally expensive restaurant meals by almost always eating in for breakfast and picnicking frequently for lunch or dinner. Experiences are of high value to me when traveling but this is where I feel I can also find the most savings. I will definitely shop the bargains, find the free passes, take advantage of extended hours, obtain the discounts that apply, make the calls for the coupons. Where applicable, I will try to note these in my posts. If absolute bargain travel is your thing, I may not be the resource for you. But I like to think that I provide insight about good value, high quality travel.
On our first sunny morning in Monterosso, the hiking trails of the Cinque Terre beckoned to us. (By beckoned, I mean that the adults woke, bleary-eyed, at sunrise, sought out coffee, and waited impatiently for the children to arise. When that didn’t occur naturally, they were rousted unceremoniously out of bed.)
We set off for the trails at 10:00 in the morning. The “ideal” hike in this region would start earlier than that…..the weather would be cooler and the trails less crowded but compromise is part of every family vacation. Also, sleep is important. Well-rested tweens are more agreeable tweens.
The trail heads steeply out of old town Monterosso, hugging the seaside cliffs and affording glorious oceanfront views. This trail is 3.5 km (2.2 miles) with 804 feet of elevation gain. We completed this in an hour and 15 minutes. There are multiple sets of stairs, some decent climbs, treks through lemon groves and vineyards, and a final, steep descent into the town of Vernazza. The views along the way are stunning with vast ocean panoramas, glimpses of daily life in the orchards and vineyards, and a bird’s eye view of Vernazza at the crest of the final hill. The trail is quite manageable but occasionally is narrow. There are some uphill portions but it is well balanced with long stretches of flat trail. Take your time on this one, the beauty is definitely in the journey here. As an aside, you will see many notices in the Cinque Terre regarding the dangers of hiking on the trails. We are from Montana and are quite accustomed to narrow, steep, rocky hikes. The trails of the Cinque Terre are no more challenging than what we routinely climb at home. That being said, be smart. Wear appropriate footwear (no sandals, flip flops, open-toed shoes), bring sunscreen, snacks, and water, and know your abilities. If you are in poor health or significantly out of shape, this might not be the adventure for you.
But I digress.
Upon arriving in Vernazza we climbed up, up, up again through the narrow village streets to Al Casello, a restaurant perched seemingly on the edge of the cliff. The absolute best feature of this restaurant is the view. Stunning 360-degree oceanfront vistas are a lovely backdrop to lunch. Some of the food was really great, some just good. The mussels were quite delicious. Service was quite hit or miss. After paying the bill in a backroom (cash only), the owner allowed us a shot of her very delicious homemade limoncello.
We set off from there along the continuation of the trail to the next village, Corniglia. This trail is much more open and therefore, much less shaded. It gets hot in the middle of the day. This is a 4 km (2.5 miles) trail with an elevation gain of 765 feet which we covered in an hour and a half. We shopped here for some small souvenirs and had gelato at Albergo’s. This is some of the best gelato in the region and worth the hike to find it. From Corniglia, we descended a long staircase to the train station where we hopped the train back to Monterosso.
The afternoon was spent beachside again. While the adults lounged in shaded chaise lounges, the girls took a paddle boat out into the bay and spent many happy hours in the water.
We wrapped up the evening with dinner at Ciak where we ate on the outdoor patio. This place is simply stunning. Delicious, authentic, Ligurian cuisine served in large crockery dishes. The mussels were quite amazing and squid ink risotto was delicious. Service was generally good although lagged a bit once our food was served. The flavors here are exceptional and it’s well worth a stop. Reservations recommended.
There hasn’t been much travel lately, for obvious reasons. We have largely settled into our new lives at home but we yearn for the days of carefree travel and adventure. Months before the advent of coronavirus in our country I had requested a few days off in October. My plan was to attend a professional conference that was scheduled for that weekend. We can all surmise what happened with said conference. But I still had those days off work and they beckoned to me with possibility. Obviously, they would afford me some extra time to spend with my girls. I had to wonder, though, if there were other opportunities hidden in this situation that I just hadn’t recognized yet.
For over a decade now, we have traveled with our dear friends at least a few times a year. We have a summer camping trip with them every August and a girls only Nutcracker weekend with them every December. Many years we also take a winter vacation with them to either Mexico or Hawaii. A handful of times they have visited at our home or at our cabin. The last time we were at their house, though, was when I was newly pregnant with my second child (she is now 11 years old). They live far away and it just didn’t work to get back there.
It had been on my mind for some time, this lack of a visit. People used to go visiting all the time. Now it seems that we go places and do things but we rarely visit. It seemed that my fortuitous few days off in October might be used for a visit.
Our friends live in the far northeast corner of Washington state, in a rural area where they garden and run a small vineyard. It seemed an idyllic place to escape from reality for awhile.
Given the current state of affairs we determined that the safest way to travel was to book a vacation rental so we weren’t sharing a living space with anyone else. In a small town it is not always easy to find a vacation rental but we totally lucked out. We found this newly built, absolutely adorable rental located just minutes from the river. If you’re in the area, check it out.
We arrived and settled in, stocking the kitchen with the groceries we procured along the way. We pulled out some board games and spent the afternoon snacking, sipping and playing. We met our friends in town and saw the places they frequent. We enjoyed a dinner together. The following day we met at their house and walked through the gardens, vineyards and flower beds. We walked up the road to a cemetery to find a geocache. We traipsed along the railroad bed. The girls decorated pumpkins and sat in the hot tub. We enjoyed a delicious bowl of potato leek soup.
After a good night’s sleep and a morning run through the countryside we met at a corn maze which the girls enjoyed immensely. Then we headed to a campground where we picnicked and hiked. After that there was a stop for ice cream then back to our place to make caramel apples and play games. The following morning we had to pack up and leave. We met our friends at the local bakery, snagged drinks and pastries and hit the road.
This trip wasn’t anything like our former vacations. There were no fancy condos, no pools with water slides and swim up bars, no whale watching cruises or sunsets from balconies. But there were things even more important than that. There were good friends, authentic conversations, new adventures in a new place, relaxation and restoration. It was the best interlude in this strangest of interludes.
Below are some links to the places we visited.
This is the cutest coffee shop. Variety of espresso beverages, smoothies, and baked goods. Service is not very fast but that’s not really the point here. Attached to a collection of antique shops if browsing is your thing.
Meyers Falls Market is a well stocked natural grocery store located in the same building as the coffee shop. They feature fresh produce, a nice bulk section, a wide variety of local products, and a cafe serving ice cream crepes, smoothies, wraps and more.
How else to describe this time we find ourselves in? We talk a lot of “before” and “when this is over”. We reminisce about the past and anticipate the future. It seems to be our natural tendency to talk of times past and times to come. This is particularly true when the “now” is nearly unbearable.
We are staring down the gauntlet of a devastating pandemic. We are living in a nation deeply divided and deeply fearful. Unrest is around every corner. We are collectively holding our breath, unsure if or when we will breathe deeply again.
Uncertainty haunts us.
Many of you can relate. And while the big uncertainties are, indeed, very big, I have also been uncertain about what to write on these pages. This was meant as a sort of travel/adventuring blog and those opportunities are in short supply these days. They also seem, well, trivial. So I haven’t written.
But as time wears on, I find that I am more and more compelled to write. It may well be that I write about the pandemic. I may write about parenting and doctoring through a pandemic. But what speaks to me now is to write of travel. I’m still wrapping up some posts about our Italian holiday. And while European travel hasn’t really happened this year, we have had some small adventures that have been really meaningful. So I hope you will forgive me for indulging in those topics in forthcoming posts. I know there is a pandemic raging. I know there is unrest in our country. Those are really big issues and they deserve my thoughtful attention. But sometimes, I have to break from those issues and give my mind and soul a little respite. An interlude during the interlude, if you will.
Now it’s time for the nitty gritty details. The last post was a bird’s eye view, now we are getting down and dirty. Here’s my take on what we did, what worked and what didn’t, on our recent couples trip to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
We have to start with food because the food here is simply amazing. There is an abundance of fresh, local seafood offered at reasonable prices, often with the opportunity to dine al fresco. Here’s the rundown:
Frency’s Saltwater Cafe. There are a handful of Frenchy’s around the area. We dined at the location on Poinsettia Road which is just a block off the main street. There were a lot of locals eating dinner which is always a good omen. This location offers open air dining but not really outside seating. Service was really friendly and attentive. The stuffed grouper entree is not to be missed. Delicious and affordable and set just the right vibe for our trip.
2. Lulu’s Oyster Bar and Tap House. This is a classic beachside oyster bar in Indian Rocks, about 7 miles down the road from Clearwater Beach. We biked here (which is another story) but you could easily drive, too. Located just a block off the beach, offers indoor seating. The raw oysters are amazing and reasonably priced. Lightly breaded oysters were also delicious. I loved the sides here, sweet potato fries and coleslaw. Service was excellent, once again.
3. Bait House. Oh, this is a good one! Al fresco dining on the very small deck of a small restaurant located at the back of a bait shop at the end of the pier. The catch of the day platter was a definite winner. Sides of kettle chips, broccoli and coleslaw. The key lime tart was utterly amazing. Don’t miss this one!
4. Clear Sky Café. Another favorite. We ate here twice for dinner and it was great both times. Located just one block off the beach with both indoor and outdoor dining, this cafe is funky and fun. Live music at night. Extensive menu is reasonably priced. Lobster mac and cheese, blackened seafood grill and key lime pie were all amazing. Reservations would be worth it although we walked in both nights and didn’t wait for long.
5. Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. I love this place. It has an old school, supper club vibe that is somehow just perfect. It is a welcome respite from the beach themed cafes scattered all over Clearwater Beach. This is a place where the bartender knows your name, and your drink, and provides exceptional service all night. We stopped in here for drinks and appetizers and had an amazing time sitting at the bar. Oysters and crab cakes were delicious!
6. Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill. This is one of the only restaurants that is truly on the beach. There is a large verandah that provides ample outdoor seating. The food is good but not great but the views more than make up for it.
7. Bobby’s Bistro and Wine Bar. This is the more casual, younger sibling to Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. The wine list is really extensive, particularly if you want to buy by the bottle. Menu is not large and the service was slow. It was fine, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back.
8. Another Broken Egg Café. I love brunch and this place delivered! New Orleans inspired cuisine in a friendly setting with indoor and sidewalk seating. Crab cake Benedict and beignets were amazing. Variety of mimosas and other drinks. Cold brew coffee was the best I had in Clearwater (why are there not better coffee options here???).
9. Sandbar Restaurant and Bar. Hands down, the best place to watch the sunset while sipping a drink and eating snacks. Don’t miss it!
10. Clearwater Oyster Company. I hate it when my last meal on vacation is a bust. It happened here. First the good. The raw oysters were delicious and there was a good variety to choose from. And that’s where it ends. Service was slow. The ambience was totally lacking. We had to watch a manager and two young employees gossip in front of our table for most of the meal. The food was mediocre. Disappointing.
Two mysteries remain to me after eating my way through Clearwater Beach. First, why do so many restaurants serve water in plastic cups???? We are on a beach! If that doesn’t inspire environmentally friendly practices, what will? Please, please choose something reusable or recyclable.
Second, WHERE IS THE GOOD COFFEE IN CLEARWATER BEACH??? I had literally one good cup of coffee here, despite searching high and low. Untenable.
Now that we’ve eaten our weight in oysters, it’s about time to contemplate a place to sit and rest while all that food digests. I really only have one recommendation here. If you can stay on the beach, do it. The views are stunning, the people watching is fabulous, and the ease with which you can pop out of your resort and hit the beach, or the shops or the restaurants makes the whole thing worthwhile. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach. The location is perfection. You can literally walk anywhere in Clearwater Beach from here. We booked a king suite which had a small kitchen. I love this convenience when I travel. It allowed me to eat a healthy breakfast every day and stock reasonable snacks and drinks, saving us money and time. I also love having a separate sleeping area and this suite did not disappoint. The pool is small but the surrounding terrace is lovely with amazing afternoon sun and views. Service was good. The spa was quite nice. There were multiple issues with the fire alarms during our stay. Presumably this is not an ongoing problem.
Now that we have eaten and rested, we are on to the final topic. What to do in this lovely seaside town? In this case, the obvious answer is the best one. Go to the beach! Sit on the beach, put your toes in the sand, walk from one end to the other (my personal favorite). I made it a point to walk along the beach as often as possible. It is simply restorative.
I also enjoyed hanging out by the pool with a good book and a glass of rosé.
Shopping here is pretty minimal. There are the expected touristy shops and not much more. There is a well stocked grocery store right on the beach, about half a block from the Hyatt, for any necessities (snacks, wine, La Croix, sunscreen, etc) you might require.
Bike rental is a big deal here (like many beach towns). I had an idyllic vision of tooling around town all day on our rented beach cruiser bikes. However, we rented single speed, uncomfortable, prone to breaking down bikes which didn’t actually turn out so well. We did ride them a good 15 miles with a wicked head wind for half of that. The chains fell off six times. It wasn’t idyllic. Still, if I return, I would rent bikes again. I would just make sure it was something with multiple gears, or, even better, a hybrid bike.
Bottom line, this is a lovely little spot for a relaxing get away. The pace is slow, the food is amazing and the views are exquisite. Just plan your bike riding carefully.
Winter in the mountains of Montana can be brutal. It is, in unequal turns, cold, snowy, cloudy, grey and windy. Occasionally, the sun peeks through the clouds and the blue sky sparkles. But these days are rare, and frankly, too few for me. My husband and I learned long ago that the key to surviving winter in Montana is to leave. Some day I’ll leave for months on end but as long as we have kids in school and bills to pay, I content myself with a week (or two if possible) in a sunny, warm locale.
In the past we have gravitated towards Mexico and Hawaii, ensuring sun, warmth and general feelings of contentedness. With the kids getting older now, it has become increasingly difficult to sneak away with them like we used to so this year we set our sights on Clearwater Beach, Florida. Kind of random, I’ll admit, but I had conference there I could attend and it is ranked the number beach in America. I love a good beach so this last quality was hard for me to resist.
This was initially intended to be a family trip but forces of school, extracurricular activities, and economics conspired against us. (Another not so pleasant reality about Montana in the winter is that plane tickets to get anywhere remotely warm cost upwards of $600. Per person. Times four people. Sometimes it’s just too much.) So, much to their dismay, the girls ended up staying home with my mom while my husband and I fled from the dreary weather for five days in the Florida sun.
My husband went down a few days before me to work so I enjoyed the luxury of flying by myself. Even though my girls are exceptional travelers, there is something quite decadent about traveling solo. I literally have no one’s needs to meet except my own. This is a rare occurrence in a mother’s life and I relish every fleeting opportunity to enjoy it.
Traveling to Clearwater Beach involves flying into Tampa then driving approximately 30 minutes across the causeways to the beach. My husband collected me at the airport in the convertible he had rented (it is only possible to rent a convertible without children). After a quick stop for shopping and stocking up on food, we drove out to Clearwater Beach and settled into the hotel. We haven’t traveled as a couple in quite a few years now and I’m telling you, it is pretty easy compared to traveling with children. There is just so much less that has to be done, thought about and negotiated.
We spent our time there enjoying amazing seafood, epic sunsets, relaxing pool time and one ill fated bike ride (to be discussed in the next post). I ran every day, got lots of quality education at my conference and enjoyed an afternoon at the spa. We spent time together as a couple and we spent time apart pursuing our own interests. Our marriage has struggled recently, as marriages are apt to do, and we haven’t spent time together as a couple for a really long time. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had some trepidation about this trip. As it turns out though, we can exist outside our children. We can spend time together and it can go okay. We can even have some fun, and laugh together and enjoy each other’s company. And if we have to fly across the country and find some sunshine in order to start finding ourselves again, I can make my peace with that.
Some travel days have themes. Some of these are fun, others, not so much. Almost all are amusing in retrospect. Our third full day in Italy was apparently designed to test my navigational skills. I basically failed but I had a lot of fun doing it.
I started the morning by waking early and decided to get in a run before we traveled to our next stop. I set off on the winding country road, sure I couldn’t get too lost with a simple out and back route. I intended to run 3 miles so after heading down the road 1.5 miles, I turned around. After about a mile or so, I realized that the scenery didn’t look all that familiar. I was in a foreign country, though, so maybe that was it. After another half mile it was pretty clear that I wasn’t back at the agriturismo. Luckily, I had brought my phone with me and pulled my map which indicated that somehow, on my simple out and back route, I had taken a wrong turn and ended up WAY off the beaten path. Perhaps some day I will learn to embrace this type of situation but at the time all I could think was that my children were expecting me back at a certain time and I had no way to call them and that we had a train to catch in Genoa and a pretty tight time schedule. Damn.
I thought through my options, hoped and prayed that my Google Maps were actually going to be accurate this time in a foreign country, and began hiking up a rustic trail through an orchard. Eventually I came to the top of the hill and from there navigated my way back home. Phew. We ate breakfast, loaded the car, and set off for Genoa. However, the navigation system in the car decided to be a bit finicky and had us going up and down a rural path multiple times. We were hopelessly turned around, going in circles and getting later and later for our train. I had about lost my mind when fortuitously, the correct road appeared. It would seem that it was always there and I just didn’t see it, but who really knows?
After getting on the correct road we enjoyed a stunningly beautiful drive through mountain passes and along the coast to the seaside town of Genoa. Total time in the car was about 2 hours. I was anxious about finding the car drop off at the harbor in Genoa but it turned out to be really easy thanks to my eagle eyed backseat navigators who spotted it immediately after getting off the autostrada. We dumped the car and hiked 20 minutes to the train station where we met my husband who had purchased train tickets for us. We had a few minutes to wait and then boarded our train to Monterosso.
The train ride was less than an hour and deposited us at the train station in the new town section of Monterosso. From there it was a 10 minute walk to the old town where we were met by our Air BnB host and showed up five flights of steep stairs to our apartment overlooking the neighborhood square. The apartment was ideally located in the center of old town. It was a bit noisy, though, and without AC we had the windows open all night and the noise of the town was definitely noticeable. The long hike up and down the stairs was a bit of a pain, too. We knew about it ahead of time and weren’t surprised but I think next time we will find somewhere a little more peaceful (which in Monterosso would mean moving only a few blocks up the street).
We had lunch at Belvedere (good pesto pasta) and then met our friends at the Monterosso beach. One of the luckiest parts of our Italy trip was convincing our good friends to join us in Monterosso for nearly a week. The girls had friends to play with and the adults had good companions for a variety of activities. If you’ve read my earlier posts you know I love traveling with friends and having our friends with us on this trip was indescribably amazing.
Anyway, I digress. The kids hit the ocean, we lounged on the chairs and drank prosecco and soaked up the Italian sun. Life is good!
At the end of the day it turns out that we got lost a few times. But we also got found. And at the very end of it all we found ourselves with our dear friends on a beach in Italy, enjoying the good life. It doesn’t get any better than that.
A few logistical details: the main beach in old town Monterosso is a pay to play operation. You rent lounge chairs for the day. You can also rent paddle boats which were a big hit with the girls. There is a small walk up restaurant and you can order at the counter or from your chair. There are sandwiches, salads, etc as well as snacks and drinks. Beach loungers with umbrellas were 20 euros for the day, lower cost for a basic chair. The food and drinks were very reasonably priced
The day dawned sunny and peaceful which was more than I could say for the night prior which saw me awake for 3 hours wrestling with the jet lag demons. We enjoyed breakfast at our agriturismo then hopped back in the car to journey to our second winery, Ceretto. Ceretto is a family run vineyard located just outside of Alba and produces glorious Barolo wine in addition to Barbaresco and a lovely Arneis. They offer typical wine tastings as well as a wine trek which allows you to explore the entire property. I was intrigued by the idea of wine trekking so booked the experience months in advance (absolutely necessary). This turned out to be a very enlightening, educational experience both for myself and my children. We toured the vineyards, hazelnut orchards, and greenhouses which provide produce for the family owned restaurants in Alba. We received a rich history of the land and family as well as the wines that are produced there. An absolute experience of terroir.
Side note: bring comfortable, closed toe walking shoes. The paths are dusty. If the day is hot, also bring along a water bottle, sunscreen, hat, etc.
The trek lasted for approximately an hour and was followed by an hour long wine tasting in the air conditioned tasting room with magnificent views of the vineyards. The staff very graciously accommodated my children who enjoyed the views and the snacks of grissini and hazelnuts. We tasted a variety of exceptional wines during the tasting and before leaving I purchased a multitude of bottles. A few to keep and consume during our trip but many, many to send home. The Arneis was a crisp, refreshing white, perfect for summertime drinking. Cases of Barolo were also sent home to age in the wine cellar. I also purchased two special bottles of Barolo Prapo. This was first produced by Ceretto in 1976, the year I was born. These bottles will kept and one will be opened on each of our daughters’ 21st birthdays. (They will be ruined for mediocre wine!)
Following the tasting we went back to the agriturismo for a lazy afternoon of lying by the pool, snacking and napping. Dinner was enjoyed on the patio as we snacked on our assorted meats, cheese, fruits and vegetables, played games and enjoyed each other’s company.