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Whew! Last week was a serious whirlwind of travel, from a weekend in Provincetown to the work week in Sonoma County. It was both tiring and incredible to be in two of my favorite places on earth in less than 24 hours. Travel never ceases to amaze me, how on a Monday morning I can start in rainy, gray Boston and then a few hours later be in Sonoma, blue skies and blazing sun. It’s pretty cool.

My trip to Sonoma County this time around was for work, so it involved a pre-planned, jam-packed itinerary of wineries, hotels, restaurants, meetings, and more. It was different than our past trips, but it was still great. I’ll have some posts on wine tasting coming up, but since today is Travel Tuesday wanted to share some snapshots I took along the way.

 

The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort

My hotel, The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort, was luxurious and comfortable, the perfect spot for relaxing after a busy day. The pool area was my favorite for catching the beautiful Sonoma sunset and having a glass of local wine before bed. I was on East Coast time the entire trip and thus exhausted by sunset, but how could you miss this?

Sonoma sunset

Our first dinner took place at a favorite of mine, The Girl & The Fig, where the patio sparkled and the food was all inspired and delicious, as always.

The Girl and the Fig    The Wild Flounder Meunière, one of their signature dishes, was flaky buttery perfection, atop smooth and creamy potatoes and my serving of greens for the day.

Flounder

My visit included a tour of the stunning Fairmont Sonoma Mission & Spa, which I look forward to visiting again soon. The spa is one of the prettiest I have ever seen, and the pools were very inviting, as the sun started to climb into the sky. Fairmont Sonoma

My chilaquiles breakfast at the hotel was hearty and indulgent with a perfect kick of spice.

chilaquiles

Another restaurant I had the pleasure of dining at was Willi’s Wine Bar, where I sampled just about everything, including truffle fries, goat cheese fritters, a variety of salads, and to-die-for filet mignon sliders with creamed spinach. This is an amazing, must-visit spot if you are ever in the Santa Rosa area. The owners also own Bravas, which I visited last summer on our Healdsburg food tour and really, really loved.

Willi's Wine Bar

The food and wine pairing we had at Kendall Jackson Vineyard Estates was something to savor.

I would not have thought to pair strawberries with radishes, but the spicy/crunchy sweet/soft went together so deliciously, paired with 2014 Grand Reserve Rosé  just tasted like summer. I’ll be recreating this at home for sure. It’s just asking for a hammock or patio seating and a midsummer night.

radish and strawberry salad

2012 Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir, paired with a cassoulet of very local ingredients, 2013 Jackson Estate Alisos Hills Syrah with pork belly in a red wine BBQ sauce, and meatballs made with lamb from next door, paired with a delicious Cab made up for the hearty portion of the tasting. It was heavenly.

Kendall Jackson wine and food pairing

 

 

Kendall Jackson gardens

Many of the ingredients in the food pairing came from the gardens right on the property, and Tucker Taylor, the Culinary Gardener, gave us a delightful tour of the gardens, which are seriously impressive and beautiful.

Kendall Jackson gardens

Sonoma County

In between each stop, I enjoyed dreamy views of vineyards, mountains, and perfect skies. It was blissful just riding in the car, and taking in the sights and sounds and smells around me.  Sonoma County is truly just a special place full of amazing people, delicious food and wine, and unparalleled scenery. In case you couldn’t tell, I love it.

Rodney Strong Vineyards Terrace

While much of what we saw was new to me, I did get to visit the terrace at Rodney Strong, where we got to spend some time last summer. Their terrace light is perfect in the early to late evening, and while we missed the main portion of the program learning about their sustainability efforts, we made it in time to see their new square tanks and to do some mingling while eating delicious pizza and other bites and sampling some of their available wines.

flatbread pizza

Rodney Strong Vineyards Terrace  Rodney Strong Vineyards Sonoma sunset

 

It was both beautiful and a little sad to see the sun set that evening from the Rodney Strong Vineyards terrace, knowing that we were heading home the next day. This time around it wasn’t too too bad since I will be returning for a big work event in early September. If you’re planning a vacation, Sonoma County might be the perfect place for you. For more blog posts on Sonoma as well as my other travel posts, please visit my Travel Page.

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Tags: Food, Restaurants, Sonoma, Sonoma County, Travel, travel blog, travel blogger, wine, wine country, wine tasting, wineries

Our weekend in Mystic was full of great food and drink. We were surprised and delighted by the sheer number of options available, and we did our best to try them all. For more on wine and food in the Mystic area, check out these posts:

Engine Room Mystic

Jonathan Edwards Winery

Mystic Seaport

Oyster Club Mystic

Saltwater Farm Vineyard

Our very first stop during our weekend in Mystic was at the American Velvet Mill for some beer tasting at Beer’d Brewing Co.

Beer'd Brewing Co.

We were surprised at the activity going on in the Velvet Mill; it was really cool! There was a farmers market going on in the wide open warehouse space, along with little artists studios along the sides. We peeked in at paintings and potters making pottery. You could easily spend an afternoon wandering around this lively space. It’s right near the Long Island Sound, tucked away in a residential neighborhood, and well worth a visit.

American Velvet Mill

Beer’d offers free tastings of their beers on tap, and then you can buy pints to drink there or growlers to bring off site.

Beer'd

 

Beer'd

The space at Beer’d is charming and rustic and backs up to the brewery, so you can see where all the action happens.

Beer'd We went through the tasting and then went for pints of our favorites, the roasty, chocolate-y P2 Precious Porter and the Whisker’d Whit Belgian, which was citrusy and refreshing. We’re big fans of stout, and while they didn’t have the Roulette Russian Imperial Stout available for tasting, once we expressed interest, they found us some sizeable samples. It was amazing, one of the best beers I have ever had, super dark with strong coffee notes and a perfect bit of bitter, like coffee and cacao.

Beer'd

We left with a few yummy growlers full for home and a great first impression of Beer’d. Everyone who worked there was so warm and welcoming as well as really excited about the beer. It’s a fun place to hang out and people watch, and we would definitely visit again on our next Mystic getaway.

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Tags: beer, beer tasting, brewery, Connecticut, Travel

Just about everything we experienced in Tanzania opened my eyes a lot wider and often made my mouth drop open in awe at the beauty and vastness and warmth that we experienced. Each and every day came with lessons and new perspectives, often some anxiety at the newness of it all, but most of all growth and change and doing and seeing things I never imagined. Every lodge, every meal, every game drive made me fall a little more in love with Tanzania, but it was meeting school children that completed this trip.

Over the course of our travels, we visited several schools. Some were random drop-ins, where the children had never met Westerners. Thanks to Grand Circle Travel, we were prepared with soccer balls, which, in Tanzania where kids play with balls of trash taped together, are like gold.

school visits in Tanzania Whether we were scheduled to visit a school or not, the things that didn’t change were the looks on the children’s’ faces, the pride in their schools, and their desire to show off for their guests.

Tanzania school

 

school visits in Tanzania

 

The schools themselves were mostly very simple, though the secondary school we visited had some new buildings and a computer lab with tablets. For the most part, however, the schools were marked by broken windows and cracked floors; they are in need of repair, they are in need of assistance.

But that’s not what they are all about.

Tanzania schools

The children in these schools are often hungry, many are missing one or both parents due to death, and some of the children walk for over an hour each way just to get to class. Their challenges are massive; they are unimaginable, and yet these children are absolutely overflowing with joy and appreciation.

soccer in Tanzania They were joyful especially when the soccer balls came out. They were full of curiosity and song. They melted my heart over and over again on our visits.

The school where we spent the most time was the Ayalabe School, which is supported by Grand Circle Foundation. A little about the school:

Ayalabe has 15 classrooms and 17 teachers that serve 379 students, ages 5-16. Due to overcrowding and a lack of funding, every 2-3 students share a single desk and the student-to-book ratio is as high as 1 to 7.

The school constantly owes on its line of credit to local stores where they buy school supplies. Prior to our trip, we were informed of what the school needed, and we all stocked up on crayons, pencils, notepads, bubbles, stickers, and more to bring to the kids. Generous donors also sent items with us; in all we had 10 duffel bags full to bring to the school.

Tanzania

Other items included hula hoops and jump ropes, which were a huge hit with the kids.

Ayalabe School

The little girl on the left kept holding my hand; it was the sweetest thing. Her sweet smile and quiet demeanor set her apart for me. Her little glittery sneakers, worn and with holes, were clearly a point of pride, and she beamed when I complimented them. I find it hard to even write this or to think about her, possibly going to school with a growling belly or not having opportunities to go beyond primary school due to poverty. What’s worse, much worse, is that things like domestic slavery and sex trafficking are all too common. Children left to walk long distances alone or play on the side of the road while parents farm are easy targets for sick and greedy minds. Learning about it after actually being there was all too much to bear.  The teachers and donors and program managers for these schools are doing amazing work for these kids. They see such difficult things day in and day out. I don’t know how they keep it up, but they do, and with love. There is a harsh reality learned at an early age, and it is not okay.

schools in Tanzania

 

 

On a lighter note, our visit included bringing enough books that each child could have a book of his or her own, and we did some reading aloud in English while our guides translated into Swahili. The schools do teach English, and it was sweet to have the children try to communicate with us in our language while also teaching us words in theirs.

Grand Circle Foundation School school visit in Tanzania Ayalabe School  Ayalabe School The Ayalabe School and the other schools we visited, including a secondary school sponsored by Grand Circle Foundation, are doing great things. In the secondary school, the foundation is providing scholarships to students, mostly girls, so that they can stay in school. They’re bringing bicycles to help with the hours-long travel to school. They’re giving girls simple items like sneakers and toiletries, all things their families can’t provide for them, but most of all they are giving these amazing kids more confidence and curiosity. In the secondary school, one of the young girls, who has never left Karatu, never been on a plane, told us she wants to become a pilot. I have chills thinking of her dreams and ambitions, and as I ready to go to sleep tonight, I pray that with the help of the community and her own drive, she will be soaring someday.

If you would like to learn more about the schools in Tanzania and how you can help, please visit the Grand Circle Foundation website.

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Tags: Africa, life changing, Tanzania, Travel

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