NorCal, take 2

I once called Oakland home, for a short time while studying abroad at UC Berkeley back in 2009. Places and people change over the years, but it still feels a bit like home when you know where to go and who to see. I visited Maya again, and this time her shrunken belly had turned into a breast-feeding, squinty-eyed baby named Chloe. Her dog Duke was the same old, happy to snuggle away any attention he still got in Chloe’s presence. Their orange and lemon trees were creaking under the weight of fresh citrus, so missing out on freshly juiced lemonade was’t an option.

the best way to wine taste Sonoma – by pedal bike

The weather was slightly warmer, and the surroundings more green, but northern California seems to be constantly in a state of transition from spring to summer. When the fog rolls in, you have no idea what season it is, but you’re still sure of where you are. Driving 20 minutes east into the hills slaps dry, desert heat straight into your face, and you wonder how the state is ever going to recover from a water shortage with all those millions of people living in a tiny bay.

the vineyard of bubbles, Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma Valley

This time around, the focus was food and wine. Chef Thrainn from Iceland was in, and we had our fill of Moroccan inspired cuisine at Mourad in San Francisco. We carried on to Sonoma, where our dinner at the Girl & Fig kept our bellies fed and finally filled with something other than wine. We spent a day wine tasting in Napa as well, where we lunched at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (The French Laundry was too daunting). We rounded off our wining and dining with some craft beers at Faction Brewing and some hard spirits at Hangar 1 vodka, both located on Alameda island in converted WW2 hangars.

Hangar 1 distillery bar, Runway Spirits

Our last meal was at Bird Dog in Palo Alto, a modern, Asian fusion bistro style restaurant, with another couchsurfer and one my oldest friends from UBC days. We boarded our Wow air flight back to Reykjavik 2kgs heavier, and the sight of Keflavik in a dismal, rainy grey made me want to turn right back around to sunny California.

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Vancouver, take 2

I’ve been on my way to get my motorcycle license since I was 17 years old, and I finally renewed my learner’s permit last month. Now I had to do two more riding tests, but didn’t realize they’d be fully booked months in advance. Spring time seems like an obvious time to get it, so I’m an idiot for thinking I was the only genius – needless to say, I didn’t finish my tests within the one week window I gave myself. I did, however, get an overdue pedicure to fix my Fiji-feet to finally looking like summer ready toes.

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picking a colour was the hardest part

Instead, I had sister time, visited my grandma, and did lots of beer and wine tasting with friends and family. Spring had officially turned into summer, literally the day I landed, and getting upgraded to a convertible jeep wrangler instead of the Toyota Yaris compact car I thought I rented felt like winning the lottery.

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I purposely parked under cherry blossoms so they’d flutter into the car and sprinkle my seat with pink pedals

My older sister was set up in a hotel in New Westminster overlooking the Fraser river for some work training, but we spent our evenings either at the hotel in the Jacuzzi, wine tasting, or gorging on sushi and Spaghetti Factory.

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one of the oldest wineries in the Fraser Valley, Mt. Lehman Winery in Abbotsford

My younger sister and her husband live in a brand new townhouse in Langley. My oldest childhood friend also lives there and let me bum around her stable to get my horse-cuddling fix (and some allergies, yay me). We went fruit-wine tasting in Abbotsford and visited the southern-most vineyard in canada – Glasshouse Winery sits at the 49th parallel on 0 Ave, where you look across the street to Washington state.

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Big Rock Brewery tasting paddle

I didn’t make it to Chilliwack or Whistler, my other two go to’s when in BC, but instead spent some time in and around Olympic village where my few remining UBC alumni friends now live. We spent a Sunday together touring the breweries, starting at the Big Rock Urban Brewery, winding up Ontario Road past Faculty, R&B and 33 Acres brewing companies, before ending at Brassneck and Main Street Breweries where I was politely cut-off by a power-tripping bartender. Instead we carried on to a concert in a second-hand clothing shop, and paid our way into a closed restaurant by buying cocktails from the bartender, and before I knew it, I was back on a plane to the bay area for some wine tasting.

Spring Skiing in BC

My favourite time to be in Vancouver is springtime. I was a little early for the cherry blossoms, but the first warm weekend and sunny skies did have a few trees blossoming early. It was my first trip to BC that I truly felt like a tourist – renting a car and booking hotels is something I´ve never done before.

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Gastown´s steam clock

Fewer and fewer people from my UBC days are left, and the city has transformed so much since the Olympics that I barely recognised parts of downtown. Robson street and Granville look like old-fashioned relics of the good old days, Gastown looks the same but feels completely different, and I don´t even remember what the new Olympic Village neighbourhood looked like before it was there.

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UBC alumni reunited in Olympic Village

Going to BC means the routine family check up. My grandma would be furious is I was around and didn´t visit. But visiting her always means a cloud of guilt, for not visiting earlier or more often, not staying long enough, and not eating enough. This time, I got in the most trouble for not calling ahead since she didn´t get a chance to cook up a storm and overfeed me the best Guyanese chicken curry you´ve ever had, but it wasn´t meal time and we had places to go.

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the Fraser River

I was with Master Chef Thrainn, on his first visit to BC, and I wanted to impress him with the wining and dining scene. It wasn´t all fancy – Tim Hortons and A&W are Canadian musts, and wine tasting in Langley and visiting a BC liquor store to see the Okanagan selection were part of our master plan. I saw my oldest friend from Canada, Lisa, who took us around the vineyards, and visited her younger brother, sous chef at Coquilles, in Gastown. We had to go to Cactus Club and Earls, the two Canadian chains I owe all my server training to, and the trip highlight was hands down Araxi in Whistler; the shucked right in front of you oysters, fresh sea food and local wine list impressed even Thrainn, who doesn´t normally like oysters.

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The Peak2Peak Gondola, taking us from Blackcomb to Whistler mountain

We spent four days in Whistler, with fresh snow on our first day and a couple days of powder, but most importantly, we had three days of sunshine on the slopes with a hottub to soothe our muscles every night. I had a friend in Whistler and a few in Vancouver to visit, and we tried some local brews at the Craft Beer Market.

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feeding the birds on 7th Heaven

We started our trip with the first night at Cultus, and woke up to a glorious morning on the lake. We ended our trip with an upgrade at the Shangri-la hotel, in Vancouver´s tallest building, but looking across at Trump tower made us prefer the view from our other hotel balcony peering down Thurlow street to the Olympic torch. Stanley Park was still as I remember, but the one morning of dismal rain we had on our trip ruined our plans to bike around it. At least I have that and a few more cherry blossoms to come back to, so its not goodbye yet…

Cowgirls in Camargue

In Iceland, I have mostly German, British, and Scandinavian riders who come on horse tour, but the few Frenchies that drop in are usually the most memorable. Either they don’t speak a word of English, have no idea to ride or ride better than everyone else, and often drink wine like water. I met a Mr. Berquin this summer, one of the founding creators of the Henson horse breed – a cross between a French riding horse and Norwegian fjord horse. He invited me to ride at his farm, their origin in the Baie de Somme, but as fate would have it, I couldn’t make the trip dates.

the Pont du Gard near Nimes

Instead, I had the weekend before free, and thought I should go riding in France anyway, and after finding a Wow Air return flight for barely more than 100 euros to Paris and a bus ticket from there to Lyon for 9 euros each way, I just went. The south of France sounded much warmer anyway, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend such little money in Reykjavik.

Alicia and I on the beach in the south of France

I have this other fun French friend I met last year on the Golden Circle, Alicia who also rode with me earlier this year in Kyrgyzstan. She lives in Lyon and decided we should go to Camargue and ride their big white beach horses. After a night in Paris (you always have to stay the night in Paris when you get the chance!) and a few hours in the bus, we were in Lyon drinking wine.

wine tasting at Chateau La Borie

The journey from Lyon to Camargue takes you through the heart of Côtes du Rhône, home to some of the best red wines in France. We stopped at a few vineyards (, and one in Chateuneuf-du-Pape, and ended our day trip at the Pont du Gard, that bridge and ancient Roman aqueduct that you’ve seen a hundred times in videos but never realized how to get there. That night we had dinner at the beach town Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer (why is the town name so long and how many St. Mary’s are there?), which, very appropriately, was a huge portion of moules et frites with white wine from the region.

horses on the ferry -transporting our transport across the little Rhone

We rode Camargue horses for the weekend, and thought we were special, but there were 5 others riding with us the first day (all but 1 were beginners).We galloped on the beach and rode past herds of flamingos, and had picnic lunches that always included rosé wine. I had a cool Camargue cowboy hat and traditional Camargue saddle, which turned out to be terribly uncomfortable, but at least I looked and felt like a real French cowgirl.

approaching another group of Camargue horses

We were one group of many, and only by the end of the weekend did we realize just how many other Camargue horse farms there were in the area. One one random trail crossing in the wetlands, there were 4 groups that actually intersected, causing enough of a traffic jam that maybe yield signs or traffic lights might need to be put up there one day. We had to cross one river, an offshoot of the Rhone, on a barge, and we took our horses on board just as easily as the cars were allowed to be ferried across. Its the first, and probably the last time, I´ve ever ridden a horse on a boat.

Roadtrip Westcoast & Craigslist Rideshare

After I spent a day in Miami, I flew to SFO to start a week long road trip from the Bay to Vancouver, B.C. I wanted to visit friends and family from here and there, since that´s what people like to do during the holidays. Me and Steve used his Subaru as a Craigslist carpooling tool and rideshared parts of our drive there and back. We decided to skip the boring, direct I5 and take all of Northern California along the much longer but prettier highway 101, and also thought it would be a good opportunity to stop along the way in Mendocino county for some wine tasting. We had Phil and Kai, both good-hearted travelers not really from any one place in the states, who drove the whole day with us to Oregon, and thankfully knew how to drive a stickshift so that some of us could taste as much as we wanted without spitting.

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all my favourite people from Portland

We visited two California Organic Certified wineries, Yorkville Cellars and Barra of Mendocino, and while I still can’t admit that I can taste the difference in organic versus non-organic, you still somehow feel better supporting a more sustainable, less environmentally-damaging winery just because some California certification schema says that they are. Weird, but true. We also stopped at a famous microbrewery in Boonville, California. Anderson Valley Brewing company makes almost 20 different varieties of beer at their tastehouse, and their Winter Solstice Seasonal ale, my personal favourite, is super scrumptious. Although, it hardly compared to the limited edition, seasonal, 11%alc. Abyss, by Deschutes brewery in Oregon; Ryan described it as God walking down your throat in velvet slippers.

Sienna Ridge Estate Winery

We dropped Kai off in Eureka, and then Phil drove the rest of the way through a grove of Giant Redwoods, weaving along Grants Pass after we entered Oregon. He needed to be dropped off in Ashland, and the person who he was staying with offered us to stay the night there too since it was getting late. Phil got the couch at his friends place, and we got Cadbury Cottage, a beautiful 2-storey, cozy house to spend the night. It’s rented out for hundreds of dollars per night during the very famous Shakespeare festival that happens in Ashland every summer, but I guess in December when noone uses it they can afford to let random craigslist rideshare friends stay a complimentary night 🙂

winter time in wine country

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We made it to Vancouver to visit my mom and sisters, and gorged for the next few days on Mom´s home cooking and specialty Christmas treats. On the drive back down, we had two craigslist people again, this time from Seattle to Oregon, but they were much younger, a guy and a girl, and had no luggage at all. Sounds suspicious, but I almost felt like we were more dangerous than them. We spent that night in Eugene, Oregon, with a friend of mine, Jesse, who works at June. Its a restaurant/bar and we stopped to have some more delicious micro-brew, local beer and stouty christmas ales. We spent most of the night talking about couchsurfing since he and his girlfriend are going to Venezuela and Colombia soon and want to start using the site; of course I gave it the highest recommendation, helped him get his profile completed, and gave him 2 suggested hosts in Colombia to make sure he doesn’t change his mind.

Jackson Wellsprings near Ashland, Oregon

For the last leg of the drive, we didn’t find any craigslist rideshares, so we took our time stopping in Jackson Wellsprings, a hotspring spa that did good for our stiff backs and sore buts from all that driving. We also stopped at Sienna Ridge Estate, a winery right in the middle of Oregon visible from the I5, in an old, restored farmhouse. Our wine pourer was this lovely old man whose name I can´t remember, but it started with G and he’s only one of two people who work there since somedays, noone even comes to taste business is so slow. If you go there, ask him how his sister is, since he was on his way north to visit her at the Vancouver General Hospital the very next day.

I’ll call him Mr. Sienna Ridge

Even though we had no rideshares, we did pick up a crazy hitchiker, who had the most obnoxious, raspy New Yorker voice, and didn’t once stop talking (with excessive cursing) in the 20 miles we drove him. Anymore than that and I think I would have started to regret picking him up but instead it just makes yet another great story to tell from our roadtrip.

Wine Regions in the Lower Mainland

Most of BC’s vineyards and wine production happen in the Okanagan, but recently wine making has become increasingly popular in Langley and the surrounding areas. There are a handful of vineyards in Cloverdale, just a few blocks north of the American border, and even some as far east as Abbotsford (Mt. Lehman Vinery – free tasting Thurs, Fri and Sat 1- 5pm).

Domaine de Chaberton vines

My sister and I went wine tasting to three vineyards one sunny afternoon last week, and although that might not seem too exciting, its pretty amazing we can go wine tasting as a day’s activity from Chilliwack, and even more amazing that my sister Kristjana wanted to come with (anyone who knows Kristjana understands that inside joke).

notice her glass is empty? scandalous…

We started at Neck of the Woods vinery, which last year used to be called Glenugie, and a few years before that, Real Estate Winery, so getting directions on google maps was a bit confusing. The only wine I remember was their Chardonnay that actually smelled like petroleum… the lady was really nice though! Then we went to Domaine de Chaberton which is a long standing winery that used to be run by a French and German couple. They recently sold their winery and now the new owners run a line of their ‘less-europeany’ wines as Canoe Cove. It sits in far-south Langley where they actually experience a sub-climate to the rest of Langley, great for white grapes, so they had an excellent chardonnay and my favourite was their gewurztraminer. They age their chardonnay in french-imported oak barrels that sit in this cellar the lady described as a reverse-sauna. It smelled like one.

Township 7 Winery

We ended our day at Township 7, which is a beautiful winery nestled among horse farms and Cloverdale equestrian park, but all their vines are just show vines and I think all their grapes are grown in the Okanagan. We ended our day there with the only tasting session that wasn’t free (a mild $3) but thankfully Kristjana was a responsible enough driver to have only tasted less than a milliliter of maybe half the varieties.