Virginia is for Lovers (Of Wine!)

Why I have not written this post before now is unclear to me; however, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that I am part of the wine lover’s club. To be fair, I get it honestly from my father and his brothers. Some assembly of our family goes to the Dry Creek Valley Passport weekend every year. One uncle has a cellar that is so full, he actually tracks his wine with a spreadsheet. Every cabinet in my dad’s house opens a new assortment of bottles, some with a very scientific color coding system. (At one point my dad tried to use those round color-coding stickers to categorize his wines – ok for us to drink, a bit nicer so we should ask and those to be saved for special occasion. He didn’t bother trying to explain the system to us and now can’t even remember it himself, so clearly it works.)

Needless to say, it’s no surprise that I have a wine problem. And by problem I mean, I don’t know which bottle to drink next because there are too many to choose from. I’ll admit we’ve gone a little overboard – we have another case coming in November! – and I’ve been wondering how we are going to drink all this wine just the two of us, but then I remembered that my dad is coming for Thanksgiving …

To get to the point , one of the best parts about living in DC is being close to Virginia wine country. I know what you’re thinking, “Virginia has wine country?” Ok, if you’ve read this far, you have probably at least heard of Virginia wines, but may not realize that many are actually very good. Virginia has several different wine regions across the state and hundreds of wineries. Continue reading

Getting Lost

Recently Dave and I had the pleasure of spending time in Lost River, West Virginia with some friends who own a getaway in the mountains. We turned the three day Columbus weekend into four for a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of DC! After a couple conference calls on Friday morning (for Dave) we packed up the pups and our bags and headed west. Our plan was to beat the afternoon traffic, but we got on the road later than we hoped and it seemed everyone else had the same idea.

Jackie was unhappy about the traffic

Jackie was unhappy about the traffic

Finally we made it out of the Route 66 “parking lot” and made our first stop at Valerie Hill Vineyard. We love going wine tasting in Virginia and try to incorporate a new winery (or old favorite like Aspen Dale!) whenever we can. A Valerie Hill, tastings take place in the old brick manor house, with many different rooms to sit and enjoy. We bellied up to one of the tasting bars and finally relaxed while taking our first sips. While we did not purchase anything, I actually enjoyed their 2013 Chardonnay and normally I am a red girl!

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Euroadventure 2014: Happy Birthday, David!

We managed to get out and about at a decent time Saturday morning. It was Dave’s birthday and we were headed straight to the Prague Castle via the #22 tram, which took us west across the Vltava and through the Little Quarter. Our stop was also directly in front of the castle entrance, and though for a second I was confused, the hoards of people confirmed we were headed in the right direction. Before entering the grounds, we I stopped to take a picture with the guards at the entrance.

with the Prague Castle guard

with the Prague Castle guard

Inside we bought the short tour tickets, an audio guide to share and a photography permit, which we could have done without considering no one was policing the taking of pictures at any of the sites. The audio guide was super helpful, especially with my y-splitter so Dave and I could each plug in our headphones. Rick Steves has a great guided walk as well, but it was nice to just listen to commentary and have the opportunity to look around rather than keeping your head in a book half the time.

Our first stop in the castle was St. Vitus Cathedral. This is the soaring building that can be seen from most anywhere in Prague, as it sits atop a hill. Construction began in 1344, but the church was not officially finished until 1929. Inside we saw beautiful stained glass, tombs of many great Czech saints and kings, intricate carvings (a beautiful relief of Prague) and sculptures and far too many large tour groups. (Hint: Click on the pictures in these galleries if you want to enlarge them.)

Next we toured the Old Royal Palace, with a massive Gothic-style hall that has been used for a great variety of happenings, from banquets to markets to jousting. I was fascinated with the high flower-shaped vaulted ceilings and chandeliers in Vladislav Hall. Dave was disappointed that the display of Czech crown jewels only held the replicas.

The palace exit put us in place to enter the Basilica and Convent of St. George, the oldest surviving church within the castle grounds, originally founded in 920. Taking a seat in the pews, we were happy to rest our feet and I was once again amazed with the ceiling, which was a deep, rich wood accentuated by the light stone walls. Walking toward the altar we passed under old archways and by beautiful frescoes then followed the stairs down to the crypt where tombs of several historical figures are kept. Just before exiting, visitors pass through a chapel dedicated to St. John of Nepomuk, where a skull and bones are enclosed under the altar. (Rick Steves says they aren’t real … but I say believe what you like.)

We were nearing the end of our audio guide rental (word to the wise: pay the extra money for an “all day” rental rather than the three hours for the regular rental) so we decided to listen to a bit of the commentary around the outside of the buildings about various sculptures and fountains in the courtyard areas. Snapping pictures along the way, we were glad that the morning tour rush had subsided a bit.

After turning in the audio guide, we made our way to the last main site of our castle tour, Golden Lane. The narrow street is lined with tiny colorful houses that were originally built to be homes for those who worked at the castle and on the grounds. Eventually it became a popular area for artists, and at one point Franz Kafka spent a couple years writing in #22. Now the houses are filled with souvenir shops, a pub and museums of sorts. At the end of the lane, we stepped into the creepy torture chamber in a medieval dungeon. It was super creepy especially as Dave began to fit in …

At this point we were ready to sit down and eat, so our mission was to find a nice spot with outdoor seating and maybe a view. We visited a couple places Dave noted on his list, but struck out twice. Finally we settled on Malostranska Beseda Restaurant in Little Quarter Square across from the Church of St. Nicholas. As it was after the lunch rush, we scored a nice table outside perfect for people watching. We toasted to Dave’s birthday with Czech wine and beer, ordered salads and hearty main dishes – beef and dumplings for Dave, gnocchi and lardon for me.

Stuffed, happy and ready to continue, we walked through the Little Quarter’s little boutiques, making our way toward Kampa Island and the Lennon Wall. We found several “love lock” covered bridges and allowed ourselves to stroll a little more aimlessly, enjoying the quaintness of it all while the storm clouds rolled in – luckily the rain blasted through pretty quickly while we ducked into some shops.

It was finally time to walk the pedestrian-only Charles Bridge (after almost three days in Prague) and I was fully prepared with the guidebook to provide history of the various statues. We took note of the spot where St. John of Nepomuk was thrown off the bridge after being tortured for refusing to tell the King his wife’s confession secrets.

Returning to our hotel, we showered and dressed up for Dave’s birthday dinner at Bellevue, a riverside restaurant with beautiful castle view. I made a reservation far enough in advance that we were even able to get window-side seating perfectly timed with sunset. The menu offers several tasting options and we both decided on the “build your own” version with wine pairings – Dave chose the broader European wines, while I decided to go local with the Czech wines. Presentation was perfect, the food exquisite and service exceptional. We enjoyed all the wines, especially one from Italy, and Dave got a nice pre-dessert treat from the restaurant staff and then an after dinner surprise back at the hotel!

There is so much more that we could have seen and done. I definitely would like to go back, but after three busy days, I was ready for our next stop – Vienna!