Hello and welcome to my blog. This is a compilation of travel stories, photos and places that I have visited over the years (although once in a while I will include places that I WANT to visit!). I love to travel and am also a bit of a "foodie" so every now and then I will probably start talking about my favorite restaurants too. Enjoy!

Sunrise at Kruger National Park, South Africa

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wine Tasting in Temecula

Champagne, Burgundy, Napa, and... Temecula? For those of you who are not from Southern California, it may surprise you to know that just about an hour north of San Diego (or an hour southeast of Orange County and and hour southwest of Palm Desert) is a delightful wine producing micro-climate in the Temecula Valley. The first wineries began commercial production in the late '60's and early '70's so the region is still very young compared to the more established areas mentioned earlier. Over the past 40+ years over 25 wineries have started production in the area and makes for fun day trip to spend with friends or out of town guests. I unfortunately did not have my fancy camera with me so I apologize for the lack of photos -- what I do have to share are courtesy of my handy-dandy iPhone... :-)

A couple of weeks ago, on a rare rainy Saturday in San Diego, I headed up for a day trip with my friends Robin and Carly. We made our first stop at the Hart Winery which was a first for all of us. It is a quaint little wine farm with a simple tasting bar inside what I would call a barn. The couple running the wine tasting were very nice and informative when talking about the selection. On the weekends, you can taste 6 wines for $10 and you get to keep the wine glass - not a bad deal! They had a few white wines but mostly reds in their collection. I had trouble selecting only 6 to test but I wanted to go beyond just you usual Cab and Merlot so I branched out and tested their Sangiovese, Meritage and Mourvedre. These three were my favorite of the bunch but didn't strike my fancy enough to buy any bottles at this point.

Our next stop is a fantastic place called Ponte Winery. Since Robin is a wine club member here, we were treated to unlimited tastings which was great! Saturday and Sunday wine tastings are usually $12 for 6 tasters and you get to keep your souvenir wine glass. The Ponte Experience was absolutely first class in my humble opinion. The winery is in a beautiful spacious building with a nice rustic decor. Inside is a large marketplace with fun modern decor pieces for sale in amongst their signature sauces, condiments, wines, etc. We tasted some wonderful wines including their Sangiovese, Nebbiola, Beverino, Barbera, Zinfindel, and Super T. Each wine was delicious in its own way but the most unique was the Beverino. It is a slightly sweet red wine that can be served room temperature or chilled. Ponte will serve it to you both ways at the same time so you can taste the difference. Chilled it tastes almost like a rose or red champagne which is beautifully refreshing! At room temperature it is a nice, smooth, fruity red. Although I really enjoyed the tasting, I ended up taking a bottle of the Nebbiolo home with me. It was my absolute favorite for the day! In addition to the wine, I walked out of there with a set of three amazing zebra striped metallic serving platters in addition to their signature Scallion Oil and a Gorgonzola Marinade. Yum! :-)

In addition to the fabulous wine tasting experience, they have a great restaurant out back. We had hoped to eat lunch there but unfortunately the restaurant was closed due to flooding from the heavy rains that we had recently. At this point we were starving so headed just up the road to the Wilson Creek Winery for lunch.

Wilson Creek is probably one of the largest (if not the largest) wineries in Temecula. They have a very large property with lots of outdoor seating and a huge wine tasting area indoors. A second building (entrance shown in the photo above) is the restaurant and banquet facilities. We headed straight for the Creekside Grill and enjoyed a wonderful (and warm!) lunch of baked brie to start, followed by butternut squash soup and a greek-calamari salad for me. The food was very good so I would definitely recommend a stopover here for a snack or bite to eat if you have time.

Wilson Creek is also known for its Almond Champagne so you must give it a taste when you visit. It is a nice twist on champagne and has a nice sweet taste, but I can only drink one glass and then it becomes too sweet for my taste buds!

These three stops concluded our tour for the day, but on a previous trip I had visited Thornton Winery and Stuart Cellars. I enjoyed both of those wineries (from what I remember) so I would definitely make a second stop at each of those on my next trip.

Happy Wine Tasting everyone!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Best San Diego Sushi: Station Sushi in Solana Beach!

So I might be slightly biased here since I eat here literally once a week... but Station Sushi is my absolute favorite sushi restaurant in San Diego. It is actually my second favorite sushi restaurant in general (my favorite is Michi Sushi in Campbell, CA) but that will have to be a different post...

Anyway, getting back to Station... I was actually introduced to this place before I moved to San Diego by my awesome brother and sister-in-law and it was love at first bite! The place is what I would call "dive sushi" because it is a small place and reminds me somewhat of a beach shack-type place (it has recently been renovated and lost a little of that "charm" as I would call it, but the food is still exactly the same). Between the three of us we ordered edamame, miso, multiple rolls, sake and beer and the total cost was around $100 at the end of the night. Seriously! And we couldn't finish all the food because the rolls are HUGE! Needless to say, when I moved to San Diego 2 years ago this place became a staple in my diet and I have dragged everybody I know to this place. Oh, and a great thing to note about this sushi joint -- it NEVER has that "fishy" smell when you walk in, and I have NEVER had a bad meal there. The fish is always SO FRESH I honestly wonder how they manage to do it and other places don't...

The restaurant is always packed (even on a Tuesday night, although during the week you usually will not have to wait for a table), but on weekends be prepared to wait for up to an hour for a table if you have a party of more than 2 or 3. Don't worry though -- they do have a patio where you can sidle up to the counter on the sidewalk and have a drink while you wait (as long as you are not drinking outside the restaurant on the sidewalk of course)! Once you get seated, here is my suggestion of a few things to try (my faves of course!):

1) The Monkey Stick. This is a signature roll for Station. It is basically crab, tuna and avocado wrapped in seaweed and deep fried with a yummy sauce drizzled over (don't ask me what is in it because I have no idea -- it just tastes FANTASTIC!). Below is a really bad photo taken from my iPhone so I apologize.

2) Fried Gyoza. Maybe I just love fried stuff, but this is a great appetizer -- fried pork dumplings with a soy-vinegar sauce is a perfect start to your meal.

3) The Matrix Roll. This is a relatively new addition and is designed for people who like to eat REALLY HOT stuff (if you don't like hot stuff, stay tuned for my recommendation to tone this down - you won't regret it...). So the roll is spicy tuna and asparagus inside out with tuna on top plus another yummy sauce and habanero masago. The heat sneaks up on you and starts to build so the first piece will be hot, the second will reach fire-engine levels as it sinks in. I love the freshness of the tuna/spicy tuna combo so in order for me to manage a full roll on my own (like when I get take-out), I ask for them to make the roll without the habanero masago and it is like a whole different piece of heaven.

4) The Luv'n Tuna. Now this is a perfect compliment to something spicy. This roll combines spicy tuna on the inside with albacore on the outside and a garlic/scallion type sauce. The result is a very light, refreshing roll that appeals to just about anyone.

Other items on the menu that make the "honor roll" are the Cajun Tuna Roll (this was replaced by the Matrix roll when it was added to the menu), the Shrimp Tempura Roll, and the Protein Roll. I also like to get the sashimi platter every once in a while because the fish is SO FRESH it just melts in your mouth (I know I said that earlier but I really wasn't kidding). Oh, and to finish it off, I always get some strawberry mochi for dessert. It is just the cherry (or strawberry) on top of a wonderful meal!

125 N. Hwy 101 (just north of Lomas Santa Fe Road a couple doors down from Pizza Port)
Solana Beach, CA
Tel: 858.481.9800
Hours: Monday - Sunday Lunch 11:30 - 2pm and Dinner 5 - 10pm

A second location opened up about a year and a half ago in La Jolla, but I haven't been there yet because I am loyal to the Solana Beach location... Go figure! :-)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Desert Rat for 36 hours

I apologize for the lack of posts lately but I have been kinda busy interviewing like crazy for that new "dream job". I wish there were some way for me to just travel, take photos and write my blog all day but unfortunately for now I need to get back to work! But until then, I might as well have fun and enjoy my freedom! :-)

So this weekend I was treated to a uniquely San Diego experience thanks to my friends Robin and Stephan: a trip to the desert! Now many of you might be asking why "the desert", or what is there that might be fun to visit or do, but I promise after reading this post you are either going to want to go immediately to see the show or just shake your head and say "this is definitely not for me"!

Thanks to my crazy interview schedule and multiple day trips up to the Bay Area this week, I was only able to meet up with Robin and crew on Saturday morning. I crawled out of bed in the morning, grabbed a Venti coffee from Starbucks and a Lemon Loaf and headed southeast. The drive from Del Mar is about 2 1/2 hours to get to their campsite which is located in the middle of the Glamis Sand Dunes (also known as Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area) in the Imperial Valley. The area of dunes where you can "play" is approximately 45 miles long by 6 mile wide and hosts up to 1.4 million people per year! Wow!

(Dune buggy wheelies were a common occurrence)

The closest town to where we camped is a place called Brawley about 20 miles away so you are literally in the middle of nowhere... When I turned onto Gecko Road to get to the campsite I was amazed -- there is a paved road straight into the desert and people (thousands of people!) have parked RVs all along this road and made campsites with RVs, Motor homes and of course their desert toys (Quad bikes, Dune Buggy's, 4X4's, etc). Since this is actually an official "recreation area", permits are required to enter the site and camp overnight. You need a permit for every "primary" vehicle (i.e. your car or motor home) but not for "toys" that you bring in on trailers. Permits have various costs but can essentially be bought when you enter for $40 for a week or $120 for the season (costs are lower if you purchase ahead of time).

The "MOHO" and the broken down buggy :-(

When I arrived the crew was getting ready for their first ride of the day so I go there just in time! We hopped into two Jeep's, had a few folks follow us in their dune buggy's, and headed into the dunes for the ride of my life. I swear this was better than a roller coaster ride! :-) Now kids, please don't try this at home... but I was with a group of folks who have been coming out to the desert for YEARS -- I mean, the average number of years these guys and gals have been coming out here is more than 20 so they know what they are doing! We flew (literally) across the dunes to a place called "The Hill" and went and parked down at the bottom with the rest of the crew that Robin and Stephan usually hang out with when they go out there.

"The Hill"

Robin and Carly -- Chicks Rule! :-)

Carly and Me digging this really hot Camaro! And no, I did NOT drive it but I wish!

The Hill is a place where people congregate, check out each other's toys, drink beer and socialize. Oh, and they show off in their fancy souped up cars/buggy's/etc! What an interesting place to see and observe. And I swear I have never see so many Confederate flags in any one place in my ENTIRE life! I think it is really just a macho, cool thing to do but that is just my opinion after being there for a couple of days...

The Dukes of Hazzard General Lee was a common theme but my favorite was the buggy at the top! I ALMOST got a ride in it... maybe next time!

Anyway, I digress... Being here at the dunes for the weekend was an experience to remember for sure. The people were very interesting to watch and are definitely adventure-loving, thrill-seeking, adrenaline-junkies! And of course, I was very impressed with all the fancy toys all over and definitely wanted to go for a ride in a few of these phenomenal cars (but to be honest, I was a little scared so I didn't go through with it, but there is something to look forward to next time!). I don't think I could do this every weekend like so many of the people do, but it was definitely a FUN experience for the weekend and I hope to go back again sometime and maybe get up the courage to ride in a dune buggy and possibly even drive some sort of vehicle in the sand (or maybe I will just stick to being a passenger for the time being!).

So a big THANK YOU to Robin and Stephan for hosting this weekend and introducing me to this different world. It was a great experience and I hope to come out and visit again soon! For all you readers who would like to experience this place -- be careful, don't drive with people you don't know and trust, and HAVE FUN!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Del Mar Cliff Walk (San Diego, CA)

This week I decided to enjoy a break in the rain and take my favorite walk along the cliffs in Del Mar. Yes, shocking as this may be -- I am taking a break from my recent Africa trip postings to salute this beautiful town that I have had the pleasure of living in for the past 2 years.Ever since my brother and his wife introduced me to this Del Mar "local" experience I have been in awe of the beauty of this place -- the cliffs high above the beach with The Coaster railroad tracks running along and with sweeping views north to Del Mar and south to La Jolla.

During the summer season when the beaches further into town and towards Torrey Pines get jammed and parking becomes a nightmare, you can always slip into a spot in the neighborhood above the cliffs and then walk down to the beach. Just go down Del Mar Heights road towards Hwy 101 and at the light, go across into the neighborhood - make a right on Strattford and park on any of the streets between 4th and 12th (each street dead-ends into the top of the cliff walk). Now once you get to the train tracks you have three options: 1) walk north along the tracks towards Del Mar and take the easy way down; 2) walk south to Torrey Pines beach and cruise down easily; or 3) climb down one of the cliff trails -- a little scary the first few times but if guys (and gals) with surfboards can do it, so can you! Anyway, once you make it to the beach, you can usually get some peace and quiet during the summer season and just enjoy the sun and surfers!

Okay, so back to my walk... I took my camera this time because I have been obsessed with the beauty of the cliffs, the beach and... the train tracks. Yes, the train tracks! For some reason I just love everything about them and the way they create a cool contrast to the waves and the beach scene below.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into one of my favorite San Diego places. Maybe I'll see you along the cliffs some day soon.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Africa Postcards Are Here!

As you all know, I have been obsessed with the photographs I took during my recent trip to Africa. Well after a major process of trial and error, I am finally making headway with Photoshop and creating cool layouts for some of these amazing pics. Below is my first pass at composing the pics in postcard format. Maybe I should sell these to a postcard distributor in SA somewhere... Hmmm....

If you are interested in purchasing photographs or postcards, drop me an email!

South African Wildflowers