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Piedmont Day One

Following a not so auspicious start to our Italian trip, we woke on our first full day of vacation to clear, sunny skies and improved outlooks on life.  We ate a quick breakfast at our hotel and hopped in our rental car in search of a gas station.  We found one without too much difficulty and I thanked my lucky stars that I had at least briefly skimmed the information in my guide book about gas stations in Europe.  This one was full service (!!!) which was a major plus.  It felt decadent to just pull up and allow someone else to figure out what gas to put where.  After a huge sigh of relief, I entered our final destination into the GPS and we hit the road.

We headed towards the small Piedmont town of Alba.  We had a reservation at an agriturismo in an even smaller Piedmont village, La Morra, and wanted to explore Alba on our way there.  With the help of GPS and my backseat navigators we hit the Italian autostrada.  The roadways were really easy to navigate and traffic was fairly light making the entire experience as stress free as it could possibly be.  We drove through farmland and countryside with occasional glimpses of the Alps towering in the distance.  The drive took us approximately 2 hours and we arrived in Alba just before lunch time.  We parked in a small parking garage and walked to the town center.  From the center there is a pedestrian only shopping area that extends for a few blocks.  We snagged an espresso (and restroom) and then explored the shops.  Hazelnuts and truffles are produced in this region and can be found in many of the shops here.  The village feels very friendly and relaxed and the streets are just the right amount of busy.  We sat briefly at a restaurant intending to get lunch but the service was poor and before we could be waited on we discovered a small food shop a few doors down.  We quickly abandoned our menus and headed to the food shop to snag fruit, cheese, salami and bread.  The Italian woman who was running the store spoke no English and my Italian is quite limited but we managed to figure it out and walked out with a lovely picnic lunch.  We took this with us up the road about 20 minutes to our agriturismo, La Morra Brandini.

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Pedestrian street in Alba.

 

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So many truffles!

 

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Nocciole!

At La Morra Brandini we were greeted with warm hospitality, a refreshing swimming pool and stunning views of the valley below.  Our suite featured a main living area, lovely bathroom, and sleeping area in the loft with a large bed plus a couch bed.  There was a common area outside with tables and chairs for relaxing.  There was a garden on site as well as resident chickens, a goat and a mule.  My children quickly made friends with the goat (whom they named Albert) and he became our very own one goat welcoming committee.

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Poolside is a good place to be.
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Albert!

 

After enjoying our picnic lunch we commandeered chairs poolside.  I read and journaled and the girls swam.  I spent much of the time simply sitting in my lounge chair, taking in the views of rolling hills and green countryside.  There are rare moments in life when I feel fully and completely content and relaxed and at peace.  This was one of those.

Following our respite, we hit the road again to visit our first winery,  Fontana Fredda.  It was located approximately 20 minutes from our agriturismo.  On a side note, navigating through Piedmont requires a sense of humor and a well developed appreciation for adventure.  You must have GPS or an exceptionally good map.  The roads are narrow and sometimes steep.  The speed limits are posted for a reason.  You can easily get lost and sometimes feel like you are going back and forth across the same road fifteen times.  You might be.  But I’ll always advocate that getting there is half the fun.  And sometimes getting lost is all the fun.

At Fontana Fredda, we were treated to the cellar tour which was rich in historical information as well as wine facts.  The story of the estate is really cool and even my children enjoyed it.  The tour lasted approximately an hour and a half and cost 30 euros for myself while the children were free.  While the tour was great, the tasting afterwards was very limited.  We tasted just two wines.  Not sure why the tasting was so short.  No explanation was offered.  I decided to just roll with it.

IMG_7813After the winery we drove back through La Morra stopping for a few groceries and gelato.  Then back to the agriturismo where we enjoyed more swimming as well as a decadent dinner of gnocchi, pasta, wine and cheese plate.

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Gelato time.

 

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Appetizer with fresh vegetables from the garden.

Sometimes when you travel you are lucky enough to be with amazing people.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be doing something you really love to do.  Sometimes you are lucky enough to be in that magical place that just feels right.  Every once in awhile, all the forces of the universe come together and you get all of it at once.  That is what Piedmont was for me.  It was the most amazing, perfect people, in the most amazing place, doing the most amazingly simple yet fulfilling things all at once.  It gave me that warm, full, relaxed, contented feeling that will continue to inspire my travels for years to come.   

San Francisco Family Edition

Family edition is a whole different beast from solo edition.  Seven people moving through the big city is not a nimble operation.  It happened, though, and we lived to tell about it.

My sister and I have recently begun to appreciate that we should travel more with our parents.  Time is moving on and there will come a day when they either aren’t able or aren’t willing to join us on our escapades.  For now they are quite willing participants, however, so we schemed up a trip to San Francisco to visit my sister and take in the city.  My daughters and I flew in a day after my parents and younger brother arrived.  We were fortunate enough to find an Air BnB in the Mission just two blocks from my sister’s place.  It had high ceilings, a nice kitchen, two decks with gorgeous views of the city and a steam dryer that somehow turned my slightly wrinkled shirt into a dripping wet piece of cloth.  But I digress.

All good arrivals should start with a glass of wine.  #noexceptionshere

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The view from our deck.  You guys, seriously.  This place is the best.  You can find it on Air BnB. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/19969592?s=51

 

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My Cuyana travel bags in the bathroom.  These are the best.  And so pretty!

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After we settled in and had a little happy hour we headed to Blue Plate for dinner.  I raved about this place in my previous post about San Francisco.  It was so good we had to go again.  The deviled eggs are still amazing!  #prettiesteggsever

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Our first full day started with the girls heading to Palo Alto for a little shopping while the boys toured Alcatraz.  I can’t report on what happened there but they seemed to have a good time.  After surviving the train ride we headed straight to Blue Bottle for oat milk cappuccinos and hot chocolates.  Must caffeinate before shopping.  The milk art never ceases to amaze me here.

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Coffee was followed by a loooong stop at the American Girl doll store.  The girls brought the dolls, had their hair done in the salon and purchased new outfits.  It all took about an hour and felt like an eternity.  But they loved every minute of it.  They are also old enough now that I felt okay leaving them in the AG doll store while I stole across the street for some fizzy water.  Must hydrate.

These two are serious shoppers.  I’m biased but I happen to think they have learned from the best!

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After more shopping, we trained home, regrouped and headed to dinner at Foxsister.  This eclectic Asian restaurant in the Mission offers a diverse range of foods, perfect for a large group.  We adored the Korean BBQ, fried chicken and garlic black bean noodles.

The following day saw us heading downtown.  First stop, more Blue Bottle.  I forgot to mention the waffles earlier but they are amazing!  Made to order, hot, crispy, sweet.  Don’t miss these if you find yourself at a Blue Bottle.  After coffee and waffles we headed to the nail salon for manis and pedis while the guys checked out the cable car museum.  Again, I can’t really report on what happened there but they seemed satisfied enough.  We were quite pleased with our few hours of pampering before we hit the city streets again.  I love how creative the girls are with their nail color choices!

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We lunched on clam chowder in bread bowls.  My oldest adores clam chowder and was properly astounded by this whole operation.

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We journeyed home by way of Heath Ceramics and Tartine Manufactory.

 

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The day ended with persimmons with ricotta and honey and Halloween themed gingerbread houses.  Random but real.

 

Our final day in the area involved a family trip to wine country.  This sounds quite lovely in theory but in reality is no small feat.  Challenge #1……moving 7 people from San Francisco to Sonoma Valley.  This obviously necessitates renting a large SUV.  The largest SUV ever, in fact. The SUV is perfect.  Everyone fits in it relatively comfortably (it’s not really a family road trip unless someone is a little uncomfortable) and all of our gear can stow in the back.  Large SUVs are pretty great when you live somewhere remote, like Montana, for example.  They are actually a large pain in the rear when you are in a large city, like San Francisco, for example.  In the city the streets are narrow and the turns are tight and the parked cars are a real hazard.  Also, the cyclists.  Real life hazard.

I love a good challenge, though, so we got the SUV, drove back to the apartment, picked everyone up and hit the road.  My sister had found a corn maze in Petaluma and thought we should swing in there on our way to the wineries.  Sure, sounds great!  Let’s go!  How hard can a corn maze be?????  Challenge #2…….

 

So pretty!  And innocent looking!

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Earnest little explorers. #confidenceiskey

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Our view from the lookout tower.  Can anyone see the exit?????

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Nope.  We can’t.  All of our family dynamics played out in that damn corn maze.  Sibling squabbles, righteous indignation, parent-child dysfunction.  It was all right there.  For the whole world to see.  We had to get out of there, and fast!  So we did what any self respecting adult would do and headed for the entrance.  Yep, we came out the same way we came in.  Whatever.  We got out.

Relief!

 

No longer being foolish, we headed straight for Iron Horse winery.  I love this place.  If you ever get the chance to go, you must.  The wines are gorgeous and so are the views.  We were lucky to hit it on a Sunday which meant that the Oyster Girls were on site selling oysters and shrimp.  Not much better than oysters and bubbly in my opinion.

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The views….

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Bubbly all day!

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Picnic lunch in the gazebo after our wine tasting.

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The kids did quite well at the winery.  The beautiful outdoor setting led to lounging, being silly, taking pictures, and sketching.

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#sistertime

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I’ve been here many times and it really never gets old.  There were a lot of hassles getting to and from here (and one impossible corn maze) but it was worth it.

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The following day we left the city behind and flew home.  We packed a lot of adventure into a few days.  We ate great food, drank great wine, laughed a lot, rolled our eyes, got annoyed and impatient, made our way and found our way home.

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