Monday, July 13, 2015

Mexico - Wine Tasting in the Guadalupe Valley

I almost forgot about this fantastic little weekend getaway we did for my birthday last year that was our favorite kind of fun. Living in San Diego affords you the ease of driving to Baja in Mexico whenever we want.  You just have to endure the long border crossing lines to get home.  Reminder, must get Global Entry.

Husband face and I took a Friday off of work and drove down to a place called Cuatro Cuatros, which was recommended to us by a friend.  It is at the foot of the Guadalupe Valley which is known for it's wineries and wine tasting excursions.  Cuatro Cuatros would be considered sort of luxury safari tents.  They have heat and air conditioning and a shower and a bed.  They were so awesome!  I want one in a big backyard...when I have a big backyard.  I guess this is what you would call glamping but to me it was more like a hotel room then camping. And while we love it here it was too expensive for what we got (over $200/night), plus it was right on a main road so there was lots of traffic noise, something that really bothers me.

Our tent at Cuatro Cuatros
We drove down early on a Friday and were able to check into our tent early and get out to lunch at Finca Altozano which was also recommended to us by a (different) friend. It was HOT the weekend we were there, like 105 degrees hot.  Finca Altozano luckily had a bit of a breeze.  We sat in their open air restaurant overlooking the (dry, dry, dry) vineyards. They had these delicious wood-fired tacos and made me yummy vegetarian potato ones with a fiery hot salsa.

Now I am by no means a wine connoisseur, perhaps a bit of a wino.  I like wine but I am no expert.  I can't take a sip and pick out all the different flavors.  I just know what I like when I taste it.  So I won't write specifically about any wines we tasted.

The view from the restaurant at Finca Altozano

Where I belong in life - a massive barrel of wine
From Finca Altozano we headed to Encuentro, which I think was our favorite stop of the two days. I want to stay here next time we visit.  They had these awesome little lofts perched on the hill above the tasting room.  And apparently on the other side of the hill the "resort" had a pool. The bartender was great and we liked the wines we tasted here the best.  We also asked for recommendations here for the following day since the recommendations from people at the places you enjoy tend to be the best.

The tasting room at Encuentro

Hotel "rooms" at Encuentro

The following day we started at Monte Xanic.  It was a big winery with a tasting room and patio with a beautiful view overlooking a pond. Unfortunately when we arrived they were gearing up for a big wedding for which they were shutting everything down so we did our tasting and they ushered us out of there quick.  As we were leaving 3 tour buses full of people pulled up.  To be honest, we weren't a fan of any of their wines anyway.I

Monte Xanic views

The Monte Xanic tasting patio

After Monte Xanix we made our way to Barón Balch'e just down the road for lunch.  This was our gem of the day.  They had a great outdoor lunch patio to help soak up the vino. They also happened to be setting up for a big event but we had a tasty lunch and watched, they were in no rush to get us out of there.

Barón Balch'e event setup, lunch patio to the left
After Barón Balch'e we felt the need for a nap and headed back to our tent. We woke ourselves in time for sunset and had a nice quiet dinner at Cuatro Cuatros. The restaurant at Cuatro Cuatros is a large white semi-permanent with wood floors and bathrooms at the back.  It has a nice quiet ambiance and a small patio if you want to sit outside with a view of the grapevines. The price is a bit high.  But we weren't too keen on driving around the dark in Mexico after wine tasting, didn't feel like bribing any Federales.

The old boats at Cuatro Cuatros

We were up early in the morning, and even with an early start we had to wait 3 hours in the border crossing line.  Once again a reminder that we need to get that damn Global Entry.

Monday, May 25, 2015

El Salvador - Scrapped

My pages from our trip to El Salvador.  It's hard to believe that this was now a year ago.

I've got that itch right now, the itch to just go.  I've been at home far too long. I need to go. I spend all my down time on the internet looking at places to explore.  T-minus two weeks until I hop on a plane to Croatia with 3 of my best ladies and I absolutely cannot wait.

Until then, my favorite pages from last year's vacation:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2 days in Hong Kong

How has it been 6 months since I have posted? How am I so far behind on life?  I don't even have kids to blame for that. Since I last posted I haven't done any fun traveling but have been to Hong Kong/China 3 times for work.  On my last work trip I stayed two extra days in Hong Kong to do some exploring and try to learn the city a little bit more.  When I'm there with co-workers I usually follow them around and do what they want and that does not allow me to learn where I am and how to get from A to B.  This post is a combination of my last few trips, most of my activities were totally tourist based but still thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.

First thing, the Big Buddha, I actually did this solo back in November.  I found my way from Tsim Tsa Tsui where I was staying to Tian Tan Buddha on the subway, it was easy as pie.  I love the Hong Kong MTR, it is so simple and a great way to get around for cheap. The Big Buddha is a tourist destination on Lantau Island by the airport and Disneyland.  Yes, that sounds horrible, but it absolutely is not.  You have to get through the looong line to get on the cable car to Ngong Ping Village up in the hills.  But once you are on that cable car it is so enjoyable.  The views are absolutely gorgeous, you head first out over a bay then into the green tropical hills. It is quiet you can hear the wind against the car.

As you approach the top of the cable car ride you get a glimpse of the Buddha
You get dropped off at the start of Ngong Ping Village which is basically a street of tourist trap type stores trying to get you to buy crap you don't need.  I quickly made my way through that and to the staircase up to the statue.  There were people everywhere but that didn't seem to matter, there was still a quiet like zen around the place.

Now Tan Tian Buddha is there as the major center of Buddhism in Hong Kong.  And right next to it is Po Lin Monastary.  I wish I had read more about it beforehand and explored the tea garden and explored the "wisdom path."  Instead I wandered around and enjoyed the amazing scent of incense in the air which will forever remind me of Bali.  There are large pots everywhere where Buddhist light packets of incense and it smells like heaven.

Tourist destination or not I loved it, and I will go back and explore that tea garden and wisdom path.


When I decided to stay solo in Hong Kong I had to find a hotel that didn't break the bank. When I'm there for work I usually get treated to very nice accommodations but on my own I can't afford those accommodations. So the question became, where can I stay that I can afford. and Trip Advisor helped me find Butterfly on Morrison which is in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island.  I had to decide between the "Hong Kong Side" and the "Kowloon Side" and I think I made the right decision.  Hong Kong Island is what could be considered the nicer side of the city so I suppose it depends on what you're there for.  The Kowloon side is considered more gritty and authentic. Butterfly on Morrison was in an awesome location.  I think I paid about $160/night for three nights.  My room was tiny but that didn't matter.  It was clean and modern and I could walk to the Causeway Bay MTR station and there was all kinds of shopping close by. Because when in Hong Kong you shop.

One of the main things I wanted to do was to go to street markets because those are always fun.  I took the subway from Causeway bay to Mongkok to go to the Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street which is not exclusively for us ladies.  I enjoyed the experience, walking through the crowded street with people yelling "copy handbag, copy watches?" at you.  But it was all junk, junk you could get in Chinatown in LA.  I walked away with nothing which is always good for the wallet.  I also visited Sneakers Street which is parallel to Ladies Market on Fa Yuen Street and known for it's insane amount of footwear and sportswear.  And it was insane and full of sneakers. I might have caved and bought some workout clothes.

Ladies Market
All in all a cool experience worth doing once.

And here's where I get to the food.  I am a vegetarian, and being a vegetarian in China is SO hard.  They eat SO MUCH meat and they really do not understand the concept of vegetarian.  My stomach literally just shuts down when I am in China and all I eat is fruit and the granola bars and trail mix I packed in my suitcase. Oh and Starbucks every day because it is a taste of home. So after a week of work in China it was nice to come back to Hong Kong and eat good food.  I was lucky enough to have some hosts, the sales manager for our distributor in Hong Kong and his wife found me vegetarian food and took me out to dinner two nights in a row.  It was nice to have the company of locals (he is from Hong Kong, she is German) and to get their perspective on everything.  I love talking to people from other countries. We went to Kung Tak Lam in the World Trade Center and I stuffed my face.  It was so good. The ambiance of the restaurant left a bit to be desired, it was too bright and the staff was pretty bad.  But I didn't care, I was eating.

The second night we went to Happy Veggies in Wan Chai and I loved it even more.  It was fun and cozy and the staff were all special needs people which was so nice to see.  Apparently it is very difficult to get a job in Hong Kong when you have disabilities.

I've done a few nights out in Hong Kong.  I went to Lan Kwai Fong on Halloween last year, it was madness.  That's an area where there's lots of clubs and upscale restaurants.  This time I went out in Wan Chai and I think I enjoyed it more since I made it to 3am. I met people from 10 different countries, sat in a bar where all the bartenders were obviously Filipino hookers while it got raided by the police (they didn't even glance at me) and learned there's plenty of Thai lady boys in Hong Kong as well.  To me, a very fun night.  I don't know the names of the places we went, I wasn't paying attention.  But I will definitely do another night out in Wan Chai.

I was also lucky enough that my host took the time out of his Saturday to give me a tour of Hong Kong. We started the day at Kam Shan Country Park to see the monkeys.  I would like to go back and hike there...when I haven't stayed out until 3am the night before. Then he drove me all the way around Hong Kong Island which was amazing.  The amount of money there is mind blowing and it is so beautiful and scenic. Unfortunately I did not take a lot of photos. My favorite part of Hong Kong Island is Stanley.  It's a beautiful little area with bars and restaurants along the water and is home to Stanley Market, yet another place where you can buy cheap stuff, from electronics to handbags.

After Stanley we circled around and went to Shek-O Beach and stopped for tea.  It was January and chilly so not really a day for the beach.  But when it is warm and sunny in Hong Kong the beaches can be a nice getaway from the city. I paid a visit to Big Wave Bay last summer.

All in all my 2 days in Hong Kong was fun and full and I left to get on my plane exhausted and wanting to see more.  I'm headed back in a few weeks so I'm sure I'll have more info.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

El Salvador-El Tunco/Sunzal

While I have been fortunate enough to travel a good deal in the past year (I just got back from another trip to China for work) husband-face and I had not had a vacation alone together since our honeymoon which was 3 and a half years ago.  We decided to book a trip to El Salvador for a warm surf getaway in May.  We had a variety of friends that had been down there and it came highly recommended.  After some research and conversations we decided to stay 4 days in El Tunco so husband-face could surf Sunzal and the many other breaks in the area.

I'm a huge fan of Trip Advisor and do a lot of my travel research on there.  After looking at every hotel in the El Tunco area we landed on Kayu Resort.  Kayu is just outside El Tunco and right across the road from the Sunzal point break.  It is a small hotel with 4 large rooms and 2 smaller ones.  We ended up in the Punta Mango suite on the top floor.  The location couldn't be beat, our top floor room had great views of the waves.  It has a pool deck and an outdoor restaurant area that serves food all day.  I wouldn't call the food amazing but to be honest I didn't have any amazing food while I was in El Salvador.  It was a short walk along the beach into the small town of El Tunco where there were plenty of restaurants and bars and a couple little shops. We had a friend down there at the same time that stayed at Casa de Mar, a little more expensive and probably the nicest hotel in the area.  It's right on the beach and when you come in from a surf they have your towel ready for you and either a water or a beer, now that's service.

Of all of the surf trips we have been on (not that we can boast too many) husband-face liked El Salvador the best.  The long point breaks were his little version of heaven that left his legs burning. One of these days I'll learn...

The view from the deck of the Punta Mango suite at Kayu

Kayu, our room was the top left

Sunzal point break, heaven for husband-face

Surf check
Exploring the coast

Looking east as we drove west up the coast

The main road of El Tunco with bars and restaurants

A couple of tips about El Tunco:
1. Don't rent a car.  Driving in El Salvador is tough without GPS as very few of the roads are marked. We got lost...a lot.  In hindsight just hiring a driver to take us places would have been easier.  But getting lost is part of the adventure right?

2. El Tunco is safe!  Don't let the armed security fool you, it's a part of the culture in El Salvador and employs a lot of people.  We stayed outside of town and felt perfectly safe walking around at night. We wouldn't have done that in the city of San Salvador but the beach communities are perfectly safe

3. If you have a hard time with the local (headache inducing) beers try the bar at Hotel Mopelia.  It's a hostel style hotel owned by a Belgian guy named Jil (He says "like the woman" when he tells you his name and you don't understand) who does his best to get good beer imported. He's gained quite a following and people bring him beers from all over which he displays in the bar. He had quite a few San Diego brews on display there.

4. If you are a vegetarian like myself try the papusas (local dish) with queso y frijoles.  I was a big fan.

5. Also for vegetarians Take a Wok in town had a veggie curry fried rice which satisfied by vegetable craving one night.

6. There's a couple swanky restaurants just east of Kayu, one called Beto's and once at a little hotel called Sunzal Hills. We happened to stop at Sunzal Hills on Mother's Day and it was hopping.  The views were beautiful with waves crashing in the rock pools below the restaurant and pool deck.

7. We did a trip up to Boqueron National Park to check out the crater.  It was beautiful and I'm glad we did it but there was not really any hike to speak of.  If you want to hike down into the crater you have to arrange a local guide in advance.  I wish we had been able to do the Santa Ana volcano hike but the rain didn't permit that during our time there.  When we go back that is definitely on the list.

8. The beach in El Tunco is not really a "lay out white sand" sort of beach.  It's a little dirty and there's usually a lot of people walking up and down it, soccer games happen a lot and it gets rocky right when you hit town

9. There's a waterfall hike up in one of the towns inland from El Tunco called Tamanique.  I WISH we had done it but we ran out of time.  We will do it when we go back!

The beer wall at Mopelia

A gloomy day walk down the beach from Kayu to El Tunco

Beach fútbol 

Waves crashing into the rock pools at Sunzal Hills

Boqueron with Boqueroncito inside

Volcano kitty!

My Mom's favorite photo

There has already been much talk of returning to El Salvador so I'm sure we will head back within the next few years.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Amalfi Coast Boat Trip - Scrapped

I was SO good there for awhile, keeping up with my posts.  And then summer in California happened and I have been distracted by one of the best summers the San Diego coast has seen in years.  Very little gloom, perfect temperatures, long days at the beach turning into long evenings of wine and laughter.  Pretty much bliss in my book.  Oh yeah, and I work...all the damn time.

I made these pages months ago and this day is still one of the best days of my life, our Amalfi Coast boat trip. If you're ever there, please seek out Salvatore...and give him a big hug from me.

A wise man, that Salvatore

The kissing elephants

One of the most enjoyable lunches I've ever had

Hill being a babe

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Italy - Positano Scrapped

For my Italy travel partners birthday I hustled through a scrapbook of our trip. I don't think I've ever made a scrapbook this quickly.  I think I got a good 30 pages done in 6 weeks  Revisiting all the photos of this trip made me yearn for another trip to Europe.  Without further adieu my favorite ages from the first half of our trip to Positano.