Napa Valley Sunrise to Sunset (II)

I asked our hotel Concierge at Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa for locations to see sunrise in Napa Valley, they recommended the Alston Park nearby.

The park was small, the trail about 1 mile or so. People were already there walking their dogs before sunrise. What a perfect location, thank you Marriott. The sunrise that morning was spectacular! 🙂

Unlike the first day, We didn’t take any tours. Instead we picked wineries of our like and tasted on our own.

Domaine Chandon in Yountville.

It was very early in the growing season in February. Only bright yellow wild mustard blooms were abundant in the valley.

Among all the wineries we tasted, Opus One was the most expensive tasting we have ever experienced. And there was only ONE glass of red wine to taste!

2013 Opus One ***** (This one they sell for $399/bottle! No kidding!!)

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 79%
  • Cabernet Franc 7%
  • Merlot 6%
  • Petit Verdot ^%
  • Malbec 2%

I had to say it was DELICIOUS! And the tasting area upstairs had a great view, it was like a giant panoramic painting!

In comparison, other tastings all of sudden seemed “reasonably” priced! 🙂 However for a more reasonable price tag, go to Sonoma county, which we did the next day. The wineries there were much cheaper and very lay back.

Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley was very romantic tasting room, and they had the best sparkling wines.

These were the wines in Domaine Carneros we tasted:

  • Blanc de Blancs ****
  • Brut Rose (Cuvee de la Pompadour) *****
  • Brut Rose Late Disgorged *****
  • Avant-Garde Pinot Noir ****
  • Estate Pinot Noir *****

Just outside of Domaine Carneros, we had beautiful sunsets to end the day!

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Napa Valley Valentine’s Weekend (I)

Napa Valley should be on the list of any wine lovers. Summer and fall are the best seasons to visit for an obvious reason: there are grapes hanging on the vines and wine harvest should be fun to witness! With that said, I think any season is a good season for Napa. 🙂

Since we only had three days, we started from the northern tip of the valley: Calistoga–Sterling Vineyards and Castello di Amorosa on our first day.

Wine tasting was only part of the reason to visit Sterling Vineyards; the white building complex sit on top of the hill, the view of the valley from the winery is extraordinary! And the ride up to the tasting rooms itself was a great experience, too.

The following were the wines in our tasting:

  • 2016 Winemaker’s White Blend ***
  • 2015 Oak Knoll Chardonnay ***
  • 2015 Sangiovese ***
  • 2014 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ****
  • 2015 Petite Sirah ****
  • and California Malvasia Bianca *****

The entire Sterling Vineyards is best viewed from the Castello di Amorosa, and vice versa.

The Castello di Amorosa, the Castle of Love, is my #1 priority among Napa Valley wineries. The first time I heard about this castle was on Culture Trip, it was listed as one of the 12 most beautiful castles in America.

This Castle of Love has the best tour and tasting experience during our weekend in Napa. A fourth generation winemaker, Dario Sattui, spent more than 14 years to build this 13th century Tuscan-style castle to honor his Italian heritage and to share his deep love for medieval architecture.

Don’t let the look fool you, the castle was newly opened in 2007. There are 107 rooms, and no two rooms alike, wine caves, even a medieval armory and torture chamber, Castello has it all.

All the building materials were 700-800 year-old and hand-made, shipped from Italy! Talking about authenticity! Walking inside the castle we felt like traveling through time to Tuscany, Italy…

These were the wines we tasted at the castle:

  • 2017 Ferrington Vineyard Gewurztraminer ***
  • 2017 Simpatica Riesling/Moscato Blend ****
  • 2016 Bien Nacido Vineyard chardonnay ***
  • 2016 Pinot Noir Terra de Promissio *****
  • 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ****
  • 2013 Napa Valley Il Brigante Red Blend ***
  • 2017 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer *****

Assateague Island Wild Horse Quest

As horse fans we have to go and see the horses when we find out that wild horses are freely roaming in Assateague Island National Seashore.

The Assateague Island is located off the eastern coast, 15 minutes south of Ocean City. According to TripAdvisor, wild horses can easily be spotted driving inside the Assateague Island National Seashore. So we decided to pay a visit during our recent trip to Ocean City.

It was a beautiful morning, and we were there about 6:30. The gate was open, however no one there to collect fee yet. Since the Visitor Center opens at 9 am, we decided to rely on the Google map.

We spotted no horses driving through the entire length of Bayberry Dr. However, here and there, we detected horse drops, and they were fresh, which was quite encouraging.

South Ocean Beach

This beach is wide open, and very quiet. Too early for a Friday morning. The sand along the beach is incredible in height, almost like dunes to me.

Next we drove around near the Old Ferry Landing.

No horses there either. No ones except the two love birds to the right of the house.

Back to the road, this time we turned left onto Bayside Dr. The mosquitoes and black flies were quite abundant, ready to feast on us to break the fast.

Marsh Nature trail looked inviting, it was raised boardwalk overlooking the bay. Since we couldn’t find horses, might as well enjoy the trail. And we did. This trail itself had made the trip worthwhile.

While we were at the trail, we asked bypassers whether they caught sight of any horses, and one of the campers saw a few at his camp site.

Off to the campground we went. There were three of them! On the first impression they were just like domestic horses, shining fur coat, well-groomed mane. There was nothing “wild” about them.

They seemed quite used to people, nibbling around the tent and the rest area; some even tried to get food from the campers.

It was neat to watch them interact with people. A campground should be the first location to seek for wild horses! Happy and content, we headed back to Ocean City, not knowing the best was yet to come.

As we were pulling out to exit the park, we encountered two more horses. One was wandering at the PARKING LOT; the other literally came to us– crossing the road, we stopped our car to let her pass.

Obviously she owned the road!

It was a really fun day!

So you don’t need to get up super early to see horses, they have the same schedule as we humans. They stroll out during breakfast time, to parking lots and campgrounds.

A word of caution: keep distance, don’t get too close to them. They are wild horses after all.

Iceland (VIII): Egilsstadir and Hengifoss (Northeast)

Half way through the 12-day trip in Iceland, we had already climbed the Glymur, the once highest waterfall  before another higher fall discovered in highland; visited Goðafoss, the historically important waterfall, and Dettifoss, the largest fall by volume discharge.  In northeast of Iceland we were ready to cross off one more waterfall from the list–the Hengifoss.

Egilsstadir2

After Dettifoss, we got back to the Ring Road and continued east to Egilsstaðir.  We passed boundless barren land, it was striking! Deep black soil stretched as far as the eye could see, it felt like driving on the Moon!

As we got closer to Egilsstaðir, the land turned interesting again, more waterfalls and green field and hill.

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We stopped by this bridge before entering Egilsstaðir.

Egilsstadir7Egilsstaðir is the largest town in the east Iceland, we found a pretty pond by the roadside for picnic lunch.

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After the break, we headed to Hengifoss, the third tallest waterfall in Iceland, second to Glymur.

Hengifoss is an hour drive to the south of Egilsstaðir.  We caught a glimpse of the waterfall in the distance when approaching from road 931.  However to reach the bottom of the waterfall we got to hike 2.5 km.  It was very pleasant hike, we could glance the top of the Hengifoss from the trail.

The add-on bonus along the trail was this waterfall, Litlanesfoss, at 1 km mark.

hengifoss 2

Look at the vertical columns! Formed by rapid cooling of hot running lava hit cold water million years ago.

 

It was supposed to be an easy hike, however it turned into an arduous trek.  Starting at 1.5 km mark, it rained, then it poured!  People were moving in the opposite direction to get off the hike.  We trotted on.

Only eyed to the ground in front of us, we kept moving forward and upward.  By the time we reached the base of the waterfall, my lens was wet and foggy. The landscape got so muddy and slippery, but we were on cloud nine!

We made it! Thank God for water-proof jacket and pants, and hiking sticks! And never gave up too early!

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hengifoss13

They say if you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait for five minutes.  So true!  The magic happened on our descending, the sky cleared up again.

Another bonus of the hike was the Lagarfljot Lake, we failed to notice it climbing up in the rain.  The long skinny lake shined under the sunlight, like a silk belt.  Legend said a monster lived, still lives, in the lake.  Someone even posted a video on YouTube to prove it.

The sunshine made EVERYTHING looked better. Oh, the joy!

Iceland (VII): Mighty Waterfalls of the North

The must-see waterfalls in the north Iceland are Goðafoss and Dettifoss, part of the Diamond Circle.

There are at least two must-see waterfalls in the north Iceland: Goðafoss and Dettifoss, both waterfalls are part of the Diamond Circle.

Goðafoss is less than an hour east of Akureyri, the largest city in the north Iceland.

We approached the waterfall from the right bank, the foss was a short walk from the parking lot.

Oh, the sounds of the gushing water!! It felt dangerous climbing up the rugged rocks, but the fun did outweigh the fear.

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Walking away from the fall toward the bridge, we got an unobstructed view of the entire waterfall.  Can you see the bridal veil on the right?

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Great photo spot!godafoss7

The further away from the waterfall, the more panoramic the view.

We were not done yet, we crossed the bridge to the left bank

godafoss9

and walked along the left bank to the viewing platform.

Before reaching the platform, we had an opportunity to walk down to see the waterfall down up.

godafoss11

Goðafoss in Icelandic means “waterfall of gods”, the name was originated from the Icelandic conversion to Christianity in the year 1000.  Idols of Norse gods were thrown into this waterfall after the people accepted the Christian faith.

godafoss12

What a sweeping sight from the viewing platform!  Here we could not only see the entire waterfall but the upstream river.  See the rocky spot at the right top corner where we stood half hour ago?

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Just as we pulled out the parking lot, the sky opened up to this gorgeous blue.  Too bad no time to go back, we had Myvatn next on our schedule.

The next mighty waterfall in the north is Dettifoss.  We visited Dettifoss the next morning.

dettifoss

Dettifoss is in Vatnajökull National Park, the largest of the three national parks in Iceland.

The waterfall was viewed from the top.  With the water spray and fog,  I couldn’t tell how deep the canyon was.  An internet search reveals that Dettifoss is 330 feet wide and 144 feet deep!

No wonder this waterfall is regarded as the most powerful waterfall in Europe; and by sheer volume discharge, it is the largest waterfall in Iceland.

dettifoss15

Be careful to protect your camera from the waterfall’s spray! Especially if you stand at the viewing platform at this left bank as we did.

dettifoss9 To truly feel the power and energy of the waterfall, we walked down and got closer to the fall front.  Please stay on the path!

The water was grayish; this river upstream was Vatnajökull glacier.  I had a hard time believe it glacier water–before we met this mighty giant, glacier waterfall in Iceland was clear, pure and drinkable!

A fewer hundred meters away, there is another waterfall, Selfoss.

selfoss2

The opposite bank offered a better panoramic view of the fall.

selfoss1

FYI:

There are two roads from the Ring Road lead to Dettifoss: 862 on the west and 864 on the east of the fall.  Dettifoss can be viewed from both banks, however the roads don’t cross.  We chose to take 862 and viewed the waterfall from the west bank because the road was in better condition–862 is a paved road while 864 is a gravel road.

Iceland (VI): From Borgarnes to Akureyri, Part II (North)

Continue north, our next town was Hofsós at the Tröllaskagi Peninsula.  Hofsós was one of my favorite small towns in Iceland.  Maybe it was because the overcasting clouds were finally cleared up when we were there; maybe it was the infinity pool or the free fish; regardless the day turned into a bright day after Hofsós.

We walked across this bridge a couple of times.  I just liked the rustic look, it remained me of a classic painting, like walking into a world of a fiction–an art realm.

The Icelandic Emigration Center was right by the old port.  200,000 Icelandic immigrated to America from 1870-1914.  It was a time of difficulty with the volcanic eruptions and the hardship of bad cold, especially in this northern part of the country.

Strolling along the tiny harbor we met a couple.  They were cleaning fish, apparently they had just finished unloading from their boat.  It turned out they were vacationing from Reykjavik and they owned a condo in Hofsós.

This was their annual trip; every summer they came to Hofsós fishing, then froze and brought them back to Reykjavik to eat during the winter months.  We chatted and felt like we were old friends, at the end they gave us a huge haddock–no, not a “hot dog”. The gentleman gut the fish and cut it into half so we could cook it easily later on! How thoughtful!

Icelandic people are the nicest people!

Another highlight of the town was the thermal swimming pool.  This infinity pool was a gift to the people of Hofsós by two wealthy business women.  What a panoramic view!

It was really hard to say good bye to Hofsós, but Akureyri was still 2.5 hours away.  The drive from Hofsós to Siglufjörður was scenic. Yet I don’t have pictures to share the parts of roads that were winding, narrow and without railings! I was holding my breath in fear of missing the turn and tumbling down to the cliffs…

There was a herring museum in Siglufjörður. We missed it because it closed at 6 pm. But we walked in town and found a grocery store, picked up a salt shaker and some fruits and bread to go with the haddock dinner.

While lingering along the road, we smelled strong scent of licorice.  I knew licorice was a popular Icelandic candy.  Immediately putting our noses to work, we bent over to smell the grass and bushes, and trying to nail down the source.

And I found the plant!  The seeds tasted very sweet, just like licorice.  Imagine my excitement about this discovery!  In my high, an Icelandic lady approached and chatted with us.  After I shared my finding with her, she smiled, yes this wild plant was indeed from a licorice family, but it was not the source of licorice candy though.  Then she pointed to the plant besides it and remarked “never put that in your mouth, it is poisonous.”

I thanked her profusely! She was the second kind person I met in one day, and she was on vacation from Reykjavik too.

There were at least three tunnels from Siglufjörður to Dalvík, some double lanes and some single lane.  It was quite an experience passing a 10-km long single lane tunnel, especially when there was a car coming right at you!

Finally we arrived at Dalvik, it was well pass 8 pm.

The last beer bath was at 8 pm.  It turned out we didn’t miss much: the beer bath was to soak in a hot tub mixed with hot spring and young beer, which had zero alcohol content. So instead of beer bath, we ordered a beer, a local-brewed authentic Icelandic beer.  It tasted just like beer.

By the time we arrived at our hotel in Akureyri at 9:30, the dinning room was already closed.  Don’t you just love long-day light in the Icelandic summer?

No microwave was provided in our hotel room, nowhere in the hotel, so we inquired the front desk.  The gentleman there was the most helpful receptionist ever! He called the kitchen and sent us there right away despite the fact the kitchen was already closed. Luckily someone was still there washing dishes. The kitchen was the only place in the whole hotel that had a microwave!

When the fish was finally put on the table, I happened to look out the window–

Akureyri4

Hold the fork, I had to take pictures!!

Our first Icelandic rainbow!  Within minutes, the rainbow grew into a full arch, and then a double rainbows!  What a brilliant sight! Its warm glow invigorated our body and refreshed our spirit!

rainbow

It went on and on…  Actually we needed no rush, by the time we finished our dinner, the rainbow was still there!!

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It was the midnight sun, the rainbow lasted more than an hour! That was how our day ended, at a rainbow high note!

map

Now put on the door knob the “Do Not Disturb” sign, we were going to sleep in tomorrow. Good night, sweet Iceland!

 

Iceland (V): From Borgarnes to Akureyri, Part I (North)

It was the fourth day, we continued to circle the Ring Road to the north.  It was about 200 miles from Borgarnes to Akureyri, we made multiple stops at Bifröst, Blönduós, Glaumbær, Hofsós, Siglufjörður, Dalvík and finally Akureyri.

Our first stop was Grabrok Crater at Bifröst, 30 minutes north of Borgarnes.

Grabrok was a volcanic crater.  Newly built paths circled the entire crater rim, with the panoramic view of the surrounding areas.

To the north, beautifully shaped mountains.

Bifrost Grabrok Crater 2

To the west, a crater with similar shape and size.

Bifrost Grabrok Crater5

To the south, it was the small village Bifröst–beautiful but no rainbow bridge to Asgard.

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And the winding road we drove on a few minutes ago.

This site would be much nicer visit in a clear and calm day.  For a few instants, I was afraid to get blown into the crater pit by the wind! Other than that it was really fun to walk around the rim.

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Back to the road, there were many farm animals grazing under the big Icelandic sky–cows, horses, and lot of sheep.

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Do you know there are about 800,000 sheep and lambs in Iceland, a country with the population of just 323,000?!  To our surprise, most of the sheep we saw were small group of 3 to 5, not a large flock.

Our next town was Blönduós.  We saw kids jumping on a rainbow “trampoline”.

Here was our first encounter of black sand beach.  Cold and windy, we were the only souls on the beach! Haha yes, silly tourists.

Continuing north, we caught sight of a forest of young trees. There were the first seedlings we saw since arrival to this country.  Later on we learned from the museum guide that a great effort of replanting was on going in the country.  Most of the young trees were imported from oversea.  Can you imagine the island used to be covered by forests before human settled here?  It was understood that woods were cut down to use as fuels to combat cold.

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Another phenomenon we found out unique to Iceland: the center of any settlement, such as a village, a small town even just a couple of houses, was always a church.  Many churches were simple and in the same style: white body with red roof and a steeple.

Our next stop was Glaumbær in Skagafjörður. We went to visit a classic turf farm-museum.  You see, a church in the town center.

The farm museum was very interesting, the houses were covered with sods and grass.

There were at least 12 rooms connecting together, bedrooms for the farmer and his wife and their children, kitchen, storage rooms and many more.  The yellow brick building was a gift shop with a cozy cafe.

To be continued…