29 April 2018

The Ultimate Escape

Traveling puts me in my happy place. It is honestly where I feel my best - a little out of my comfort zone, exploring new places, and usually with people I love. There is the anticipation of travel: planning, researching, packing and excitement. There is the moments of actual travel: living out all those plans, flying by the seat of your pants, tasting the food, meeting the people and being away from day-to-day life. And lastly, there is the aftermath: looking at the photos, considering what you would have done differently or kept the same, and thinking about how that travel changes how you see your world.

Every time I travel, I think about how much there is to see in this world. How many places there are to live and be happy. Make stories, create lives. Explore and experience. But when it comes down to it, usually, we are driving through the North End of Boise, on our way from hours of travel, and I feel lucky to call this place my home. It's not a huge cosmopolitan city, full of fashion and bustle, which is sometimes what I crave. But it is home, it's easy and full of our friends and the life we have created. And it reminds me that we can truly be happy wherever we are, as long as we are present.

Travel has shaped so much of my life. From early days of meeting exchange students, to watching my sister travel abroad and finally crossing the ocean myself. I caught the bug at an early age. And I made it one of my missions as a parent, to give that bug to my child. And also, inspire others to travel with their children, near or far. It's the one of the greatest pleasures of my life.

This past week, Dan and I had the pleasure of traveling to San Francisco and wine country on a pretty dreamy getaway. It was primarily luxurious because it was an adult-only vacation. I love traveling with Kiki, but I also recognize the importance of getting away with my spouse. We traveled with two other couples, both of whom enjoy fine wine and dining as much as we do!

Two years ago, we found ourselves creatively coming up with ideas for a Ballet Idaho gala auction item. One of our friends was able to procure a private jet flight through a local company, Jackson Jet Center - they would donate a flight for the auction if we agreed to buy our own two-way trip. SOLD!

After seeing a New York Times article on Tartine, we decide that San Francisco would be our destination. From there, we created a 4-day trip to the city and Napa Valley. There were months of planning, mostly thanks to our friend Lee. The trip was born.

We left on a Wednesday morning from the Jackson Jet Center in Boise on a Pilatus. We lived up the 2.5 hour flight to say the least - when would we be doing this again? Our pilot's name was Phil and he ended up becoming a friend by the end of our trip. Phil floats us effortlessly into SFO. I was in the cockpit for the last 45 minutes of the flight and quickly understood the lure of flight. It was magical.

We stayed at the Fairmont Heritage Place in Ghirardelli Place. It was a perfect place for 3 couples to reside in the city. Our apartment had 3 bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and a kitchen. Included in our stay was a lovely breakfast, happy hour with wine and appetizers and a town car to deliver us/pick us up within a 2 mile radius around the city (that was worth so many Uber dollars). 

Wednesday was spent in the city. We explored the Ferry Building and ate lunch at Hog Island Oysters. We ate on the outside warf, sipped rosé and ate fresh seafood. It was too early for check-in at our hotel, so we all had pedicures. All six of us. It's true.

After consulting all of our sources, we decided on a dinner destination - Elephant Sushi. The place was tiny (we were warned) and we had a party of 6. So we dined early and scored their big table. The sushi was delicious and beautifully presented. We left full and stretched our legs by walking Lombard Street during the golden hour.

Thursday was a drinking day. A day of drinking many tastes of fine California wine. If you ever go to Napa and want to take the guess work out of which of the hundreds of wineries to visit, look no further than this guy: David Rasmussen of Eclectic Tour. He is knowledgeable, professional and a great person! He drove us around all day and arranged beautiful tastings, an alfresco lunch, and great conversation. We visited the following wineries: Caldwell Vineyards, Fisher Vineyards, Terra Valentine and a tasting room in Napa called Vintner's Collective.

I am currently waiting for a case (or two) of wines from Caldwell...I drool a little just thinking about those wines. And the port.

We decided to sober up with dinner at the Carneros Farm Restaurant. The food was delicious, but my palette was spent. I hope to go back someday to savor every bite and enjoy their beautiful spa and resort.

Friday morning was gorgeous. We had eagerly signed up for a spinning class at SoulCycle on Union Street a week before...we didn't make the 9:30am class (oops). But, I did lace up my running shoes and go for a nice run along Crissy Field with the Golden Gate Bridge as the backdrop. The sun, the smell of the ocean, the people out and about - it was a great start to another day of imbibing.

We had a special dinner planned for Friday night, so we decided to eat lunch a little early. We headed into Chinatown and found our way to City View Dim Sum. This was actually my first time eating dim sum and it was more than I ever expected. Our friend Maji held our hands and ordered for us...pointing at the carts full of steamed dumplings and rolls and steamed vegetables and other delicacies I had never tried before. It all happened so fast - the ultimate fast food!

As I write this blog post, I realize just why my pants didn't fit well when we returned home. There was a lot of eating and drinking. I can't deny it. And this next meal was one for a bucket list. Our calendars were marked for a date in January 2018 to make reservations for The French Laundry. It has been on many of our lists of restaurants we'd dream to dine in and we scored a tabletop for 6. We arrived in Yountville 30 minutes ahead of schedule so we sipped on a bottle of rosé at Bouchon just down the street (and maybe split a few chocolate cookie sandwiches). Gluttons!

The French Laundry experience was magical. I say experience because it really was about much more than the food plated so beautifully on ornamental china. From the moment we arrived until the parting with bags filled with shortbread and chocolates, we were treated to spectacular service. From the "Happy Birthday Lauren" typed at the top of our menus, to the sommelier that helped us pair our wines to the courses, to the simple white table cloth with a solitary candlestick, to the kitchen tour...we easily understood why this place has 3 Michelin stars. Many people have asked me if it was worth it. Yes, the whole experience was worth it! The food was delicious and beautiful, but I would argue that I have had food that rivals Thomas Keller's at State&Lemp in Boise. Enjoy the food, savor the wine and sit back (but up straight) dining at this icon of a restaurant.

Our last day in San Fransisco was 70 degrees and sunny. We didn't rush ourselves much as we reminisced about the French Laundry. My favorite part of the day was sitting at Crissy Field, watching the dogs play, the people bask in the sun and sitting by my friends next to the bay. Oh, and I can't forget the ride on the new electric scooters around town (when will Boise get these?). And a gaggle of naked men happily riding bikes!

Until next time San Fransisco!

26 October 2017

Shoulder Season in Ketchum, Idaho

Image: Limelight Hotel website

Occupying prime real estate on the main street of Ketchum, Idaho, is a swanky new hotel called The Limelight. It's modern, dog and child friendly and located within walking distance of restaurants and shops. The hotel opened early 2017 and is gearing up for a great winter season of skiing at one of the oldest ski resorts in the country.

Idaho locals get to take advantage of reduced room rates September thru mid-December. We decided this was a great reason to head to Ketchum, a quick 2.5 hour drive from Boise. It was a perfect spot for a getaway in this gorgeous Fall weather.

Ice Skating at the Sun Valley Lodge

Also in Ketchum is a ski resort you may have heard of: Sun Valley. The resort has been around since 1936 and was America's first destination resort built by the Union Pacific Railroad. It was founded by Count Felix Schaffgotsch of Austria who was looking for a untapped area to build a ski resort. He found just what he was looking for in this small mining town in sun-drenched Idaho.

We visited Monday through Wednesday in the shoulder season of October. The summer mountain bikers and hikers have headed back to their cities and the ski tourists have yet to arrive. The town feels sleepy and laid back, with locals enjoying quieter lunches on patios. Even our hotel was rather quiet, with only a few people milling about.


We arrived on Monday just in time for lunch at one of our favorites, Christina's. White table clothes, delicious Italian food and a fireplace in the corner, always leave me wishing for another trip to Italy. The food here is good enough to think you're there!

Bigwood Bread - best Sourdough bread!

The Children's Library

We then walked around town, poking our heads in some of the fancy, upscale stores that line the streets of town, as well as an impressive Children's Library.

Patio of room 216

We checked into the hotel and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine on our patio. Yellow aspen trees danced in the wind as we overlooked the mountains, watching the sun sink behind the mountains.

The Limelight hotel makes great pizza in their pizza oven. Kiki was under the weather with a cold, so we decided to stay in for dinner and enjoy our beautiful hotel rooms. We ordered pizzas and salads from the hotel restaurant and drank the wine we had packed from home :)

Found Pacman

Game room filled with books, toys and games

Breakfast is included with your hotel reservation. They presented a beautiful buffet spread of eggs, homemade granola and yogurt, fresh fruit and local breads. This is so convenient with kids - when Kiki was done with her breakfast, she happily played in the kids room while we finished our coffees.

We had plans of riding the Roundhouse gondola up the mountain for some nice views, but it had closed for the season. We will have to wait until we are on skis to return for a ride! Instead we enjoyed some outside walking around the base.

Our final evening ended up being an unexpected Bingo night at the hotel. This activity seemed to bring people out of the woodwork! I don't know where they'd been the rest of the time, but the huge room was filled with hopeful players, looking to win some Limelight swag or free drinks from the bar.

Overall, our stay at The Limelight was excellent. What a great addition to Ketchum. We look forward to going back during a busier to season to see the place in full action!

23 August 2017

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." - Norman Maclean

Out in the vast spaces of the Frank Church - River of No Return wilderness area, one of the most epic white water river flows. Surrounded by 2.5 million acres of natural beauty, wildlife, and a few hundred lucky rafters each year, I now understand why the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is such a sacred destination. 

It took stepping outside of my normal vacation destinations, placing preconceived notions aside and trusting that the best trips are often ones that contain the most unknowns.

If you've never been to Idaho, you may have visions of potato farms and cowboys. But this beautiful state is filled with mountains, rivers and wildlife, untouched compared to many states. This is a mecca for river rafters and we had a spot to boat down 75 miles of the Salmon River with the Middle Fork Rapid Transit (MFRT).

What a way to end summer. 

MFRT has been running the river since the early 1980's. Grant Porter, whose father started the company and now owns it, has been rafting this river since he was a young boy and his passion for the river is contagious. From the very beginning, every detail was accounted for, communications were prompt and no stone was left unturned. Whether you were an avid rafter or novice, you felt prepared for the journey. The packing lists were my favorite! 

I packed in a 40L Patagonia duffle bag for the 6 days - all of our gear had to fit into a "dry bag" that would float down the river with us on the "sweep boat." I packed a down jacket, long underwear, pants, shorts, swim suits, a hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. A pair of river shoes, flip flops and wool socks were all one needed for footwear. They provided our Personal Floatations Devices (PFDs) and everything else (think tent, sleep bags, sleep pads, food, drink).  

By the time August rolls around, the river is flowing slower and lower than when the snows first melt in the Spring. Our journey started at Indian Creek and the only way there was by airplane. We flew in on a tiny 4-seat prop plane, enjoying the remote scenery, the largest roadless area left in the lower 48 states.

As our new friends were landing on the dirt air strip, we were assigned our dry bags and PFD's and became acquainted with one another. After a safety talk by our guide, Dagney, we boarded our boats and started down the river as the sun was warming us up and the water was sparkling.

There were 4 oar boards, one paddle boat, 3 "duckies" or inflatable kayaks and a "sweep boat." We had 6 guides who safely and graciously led us down the river. They were caring, funny, helpful and talented. There were 22 guests of all ages and from as far away as Holland. Each day, the guides loaded and unloaded our boats with all of our gear and food and drink. They cooked us three gourmet meals each day, washed dishes and set up camp. I haven't felt that cared for (or lazy) in years!! It was fantastic. 

Our days started around 7:00am with coffees at camp. We were served breakfast around 8am. While the guides packed up the kitchen and started loading the boats, we packed up our own bags and broke down our tents. The "sweep boat" was then loaded and two of the guides took off for our next camp. They would have tents assembled and the kitchen put together by the time we arrived on the oar boats later that afternoon. 

We would float about 15 miles each day, stopping for lunch, hikes, hot springs, waterfalls or swimming. There was time for talking, laughing, learning and just being present. There were no phones, no music, no distractions. I felt more connected than I had in a long time. It felt so good to be without the "pacifier" our cell phones become. 

We usually reached camp in late afternoon/early evening. We would grab our bags, find a tent and set up our beds. And most importantly, change into dry, cotton clothes! Everyone would then gather around our ring of camp chairs to enjoy drinks, play camp games like bocce ball and leg wrestling (!!), and talk. Eventually, appetizers would be serves before we were served meals like salmon, salad and potatoes or lasagna and chocolate cake. 

The evenings were capped off with a bonfire, guitar and singing. People would retire to bed here and there. Being outside all day makes a person tired in the best way. I didn't even have time to get past page 6 in my book! 

Each day found us in a different ecological region. The trees changed from towering Ponderosa pines to steep rock cliffs in the "Impassable Canyon," the third deepest in North America. We saw petroglyphs from the native Sheepeater tribe and watched bald eagles, big horned sheep, trout and snakes thrive in their habitat. 

The rapids on the river were not as scary as I thought they would be as a rider (I wouldn't say that if I were in charge of the oars). I'd never done anything quite like this before, so my imagination got the best of me. But, once I saw the competence of our guides and how they could maneuver their boats, I felt much more at ease, traveling through these obstacles of boulders and water. Not that the rapids couldn't be scary, because people die on this river, but we were in good hands and knew what to do in case we flew out of the boat. I hung on tight!

And I am going to hang on tight to these memories and friendships. In our world of connectivity and comparison and distraction, it felt good to let go and go back to just being present. It was a true vacation. And I know I made friendships that will fuel my soul well past our float trip. 

I would highly recommend MFRT to anyone looking for an escape into the wilderness. A true adventure into a stunning part of our country, where a river runs through it.