Göta Canal Cruise Day Three


Day Three of the Classic Canal Cruise begins with a cruise on Lake Vättern, the highest lake elevation, then we rise to highest elevation of the trip, 91.5 meters through the Berg Canal, and begin the descent through more locks on our way back down to sea level.

We sailed out of Motala early, 0545, but I was up to witness it.  We cruised along Lake Vättern and made stop at Karlsborg Fortress.  We had planned to take the guided tour, but it was all in Swedish so we walked the parks along the shore.



Cruising again, the Juno passed through Forsvik lock, the oldest lock in the system dated back to 1813.

Entering Forsvik Lock:

entering Forsvik

This was a beautiful area with the hand dug canal linking natural lakes.  We passed through some very narrow areas, where a crew member walked along the shore and assisted with the sharp turns by using ropes.



The wood-lined canals and lakes are the wildest looking part of the canal.  We passed some sail boaters and saw campers on the shore.  One of the other passengers mentioned that he had heard Sweden refered to as “the most civilized wilderness in the world.”   I really liked that, and it seemed to fit.


Lake Viken:

Lake Viken

Lunch was served as we cruised Lake Viken.  Today’s lunch was herring, and you can’t eat herring in Sweden without drinking schnapps.  So lunch was called S.O.S – Smor, ost and sill (or butter, cheese, and herring).

day three lunch

herring lunch

Julia serves schnapps

Julia came around with a platter of many flavors of schnapps.  I tried the dill flavored schnapps, one I’d never seen or heard of before.  It was interesting.  We also sang some well known drinking songs.  Although sung in Swedish, they had supplied us with the translations.  I never knew the English words to Helan går before, always singing it in Swedish.

dill schnapps


schnapps toast

Helan Gar

After lunch we passed through Tåtorp, a hand operated lock.  This lock puts us at our highest elevation, and as we cruised through the Berg Canal, there is a obelisk that marks the highest point.  I did look for it, but didn’t see it, as it is made to look like a birch tree, and they did a very good job in that department.

The Hand Operated Lock at Tåtorp:


highest point, Berg Canal

After lunch we cruised through some very scenic farm land.



In Hajstorp we started to let back down.  We had four locks to go through, which allowed us to get out and walk along the canal again for about 1.5 km.




Godhogen lock

After the four locks and a stroll, we sat down to another lovely dinner and watched the farmland roll by outside the window.


dinner menu graphic



In the evening we reached Sjötorp and a set of eight locks.  As the Juno was let down through the locks, we got off again for a short walk and a visit to the Sjötorp Canal Museum.  In the last lock the ship was serviced with water and we waited to board.  The sun was setting at about 10:30.




During the night the Juno continued to cruise Lake Vänern.  Lake Vänern is at 43 meters, so in this one day we had already let down 48 meters of altitude through the old lock system, some hand operated.

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Göta Canal Day Two

Early morning Gota Canal day 2

I awoke at 0400 on day 2 of our cruise, as we made our way through the Söderköping lock.  It could have been the amount of light at 0400 or the noise of the water filling the lock, I’m not sure, but I was awake.  The light was beautiful, and there were few passengers on deck as the water filled the lock and the Juno rose another few feet.



We had quite a few locks to traverse today, starting right here in Söderköping.  As the Juno made her way through a narrow canal, the land around us came to life.  We saw a deer in a field, but few people were out and about at 0500.  As we approached the next set of locks – 8 in a distance of two kilometers – we asked to be let off so we could walk along the side.  This we did, and watched fascinated as the Juno made its way along the canal, gaining altitude with each lock.



I thought that after a few lock ascensions it would become ordinary.  But it did not.  Each time we entered a lock and the old wooden doors closed and the water rushed in, it was fascinating.



We really gained altitude today, rising from the Baltic Sea to Motala –  approximately 73 meters – where we spent the night in port.


After passing the eight locks from Duvkullen to Carlsborg, we cruised through scenic farmland and brought our buffet breakfast up onto the deck.


ship breakfast

At just past noon we reached the Carl Johan lock staircase, the longest in the canal system with seven connected locks.  We arrived after a few sailboats that we watched climb the lock system.




We also had a tour of a local church, a nice change from being on the ship.  We walked to the convent of Vreta that dates from 1100.




After touring the convent, we reconnected with the Juno at the Berg lock system, a very scenic area.  The sun was out and it was warm on deck.  We cruised past the first of two aqueducts in the canal, and watched the cars pass under us on the roadway.



We had dinner as we slowly cruised through the countryside and passed the second aqueduct at Kungs Norrby and cruisee onto Lake Boren, enjoying Jerusalem artichoke soup with garden cress creme and rye bread croutons, and broiled arctic char with roasted almond potatoes, sour fennel and white wine sauce with smoked rainbow trout roe and Jamtland tiramisu with cloudberries.



The Dinner Show



We passed the Gota Hotel, built in 1908, in Borensberg, Sweden, where we went through a hand-operated lock.


dinner menu

menu graphic

dinner menu

arctic char

Julia served drinks on deck after dinner.


After dinner I retreated to our little cabin and miss the Borenshult lock system.  We spent the night docked in Motala.


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Göta Canal Day One

This trip to Sweden was not only about Midsommar and visiting family.  It was 50 years ago that my sister spent the summer in Sweden with our Grandmother and cruised the Göta Canal the first time.  It was our idea to recreate that trip, on the same ship and the same route.
Luckily for us, the M/S Juno – the oldest continuously operating passenger ship in the world – is still traversing  the Göta Canal.  We had booked this cruise late last year.   The Juno was built in 1874 in Motala, Sweden and is 31.45 meters in length, 6.68 meters in width and has a draft of 2.72 meters.  For our sold out cruise, the 29 cabins held 42 Swedes, 4 Germans, and yes, only 2 Americans.
We boarded the M/S Juno in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan.  We had been warned about the size of the cabins, but they were still smaller than anticipated; two bunk beds, one sink and a “closet” that was two inches deep, enough to hang a few things flat against the wall.  Ok, no problem.  So we put the few items we needed in bags under the lower bunk, and everything else went into the cargo area with our suitcases.

As we sailed out of Stockholm, a cold rain came down in sheets.   Soon the sun was out, but now and then it would rain again.
As I squeezed past the Captain along the railing, he smiled and said “Swedish Summer.   Last year it was on a Tuesday.”  Albert Hakansson seemed like a very nice man, his crew calling him Albert, not Captain.

The Göta Canal is an engineering marvel that began in 1810.  It is called the Swedish Construction of the Millennium.  In combination with the Trollhatan locks, the canal links the east and west coasts of Sweden.  The journey sails through natural waterways and lakes, ninety kilometers of hand dug canals, and 66 locks.  We start at sea level.  Through a system of locks we gain a total of approximately 91 meters.  Lake Vattern is our highest lake at 88.2 meters.  We let down again through the impressive Trollhatan lock system, first designed and built in the 1800s.  The Trollhatan lock system now is very modern, but you can still tour the two older systems no longer used.

route map


The brochure for the cruise says it best:
Old-fashioned luxury.  Historic setting.  High-class food and superb wines.  The good life is yours as we slowly glide through the Swedish landscape on board some of the world’s oldest passenger ships along the unique, hand dug canal across the middle of Sweden created to serve as the artery for the country’s industrial revolution.  This is indeed one time when the pleasurable journey is much more important than the goal to be reached.
On our first day of the Göta Canal Classic Cruise that begins in Stockholm, we passed through the Hammarby Lock and into Lake Malaren.  We cruised past Drottningholm Palace, through Sodertalje lock and into the archipelago.


As the brochure for the cruise states, there are faster and cheaper ways to travel from Stockholm to Goteborg, but nothing as scenic or relaxing.  The meals were stellar and the service impeccable.  Guests dress for dinner and enjoy a leisurely pace.  We were assigned a table for lunch and dinner, the table set with a different beautiful menu for each meal.


dining room

 On day one, we stopped in the scenic town of Trosa.  We had two hours to explore, and then boarded the ship again.


 Dinner was served at 7:30 pm.  The ship cruised through the night on the first night, arriving into the Soderkoping lock first thing in the morning at 04:55 the second day.

first night


cod dinner first night



L at dinner

Posted in Sweden | 4 Comments

Glad Midsommar

We departed Skane for Småland and a visit with family.  Our maternal great grandmother immigrated from Sweden in 1890.  Her brothers stayed in Sweden, and their family welcomed us for Midsommar.

Småland is another beautiful area of Sweden with farms like Skane, but they also have forests.

We stayed with our cousin Christer and his wife Berit for four days.  Many, many thanks to them for the hospitality, food, entertainment and much shuttling around.  Our relatives came from the Almhult area, home of the IKEA headquarters.  The first IKEA store was here, and is now a museum.

We toured the museum with cousins.  It is well done and worth a visit.  It covers more than just the history of IKEA, but Sweden and design as well.  One display compared an antique chair with a modern IKEA chair.  In the photo below, the chair on the right is an original from 1780, designed by chair-maker Johan Peter Mansnerus.  The 1995 IKEA chair on the left was part of the 18th century furniture collaboration with the Swedish National Heritage Board.  There was a textile playground and you could put yourself on the cover of an IKEA catalog, which we did.

Our IKEA catalog covers with cousins Rolf and Christer:



Lunch at this IKEA was the best I’ve ever had at an IKEA, and is special to this museum restaurant only;  salmon balls.

We drove from Almhult to Melbystrand for Midsommer’s Eve, using smaller back roads, and were rewarded with a moose sighting.

I love fish soup, and try it whenever it is available.  A short walk from my cousin’s house in Melbystrand we had dinner at Kustvagen 46, which serves one of the best fish soups I’ve tasted.

A visit to Halmstad Midsommer’s Eve morning produced a crown of flowers that I wore to put me in the “Midsommer mood.”

For Midsommar’s Eve Christer and Berit prepared a traditional feast including herring (three versions), potatoes and of course a strawberry cake.  It was lovely.

To experience the traditional folk dances and costumes on Midsommar Day, we headed to Carl Linnaeus’ birthplace Linnés Råshult for an exhibition.   http://www.linnesrashult.se


Midsommar’s Day dinner we enjoyed with Christer and Berit’s son Tobias, his wife Johanna and their two kids at the old farmstead.  The fancy dining room is still as it always was and used for special dinners.

Mykolholt dining room

Posted in Family, Sweden | 4 Comments

Southern Sweden: Skåne , Viking Stones, and a Swedish winery (kind of)

I am back in Sweden for Midsommar, a beautiful time to visit.  After meeting my sister in Copenhagen, we took the very short train ride to Malmo, Sweden and picked up a rental car.  Sweden is an easy country for touring, with good road signs, driving on the right, and everyone speaks English.

Typical scenery between Malmo, Sweden and Ystad

We had reserved one of the three rooms at Monika’s B&B Hagebo.  Hagebo is out in the countryside along the southern coast of Sweden.  It was just what we were looking for, quiet and close to the Ales Stones.  http://www.hagebo.nu/

Dinner on the Ystad waterfront

In Ystad, after one long international flight, a train ride, and a one hour drive in a rental car. Time to take a break

It was an easy and scenic drive from Malmo, through flat countryside dotted with modern windmills.  We stopped in Ystad for dinner on the waterfront.

Hagebo B&B

Monika, proprietor of Hagebo B&B, and one of her pugs. We liked our stay and would recommend it.

Crashing at 8 pm on the first night, we were wide awake by 0500 the next day.  Midsommar time in southern Sweden it stays light until 11 pm and the sun rises again around 4 am.  On our first morning we took a little bicycle ride at 0600 from the B&B to the beach and around the country roads.  We saw crops of beets, potatoes, and wheat, and fields with cattle.

Out at 0600 for a bike ride

Hagestads Nature Reserve, the beach a short bike ride from Hagebo B&B

One of the reasons we chose Hagebo was its close proximity to Ale’s Stenar.  The standing stone ring is the oldest of its kind in Sweden.

The trail to Ales Stenar

Ales Stenar

After our early morning bike ride and breakfast, we drove the short distance to the Ale’s Stones, 59 boulders in the form of a ship, dating from 500 – 1000 CE.  The ancient monument sits on a bluff above the old fishing village of Kaseberga.  They were used as a landmark on a coastal chart dated 1684, and first described in a text dated 1624 by parish priest Niels Ipsen.  It was refreshing to see an ancient monument without graffiti or fences or warnings.  The stones are out in a field with a great view of the Baltic Sea.



Above the small fishing village of Kaseberga

From the stones we made our way to what is billed as Sweden’s nicest beach, Sandhammaren.  The sand was very fine and white, but the water was quite cold.  Many families had gathered to enjoy the beach and kids were in the water, but it was windy as seems usual here on the southern coast.

to the beach

on the beach

The area is quite scenic for driving.  We passed big farms with huge old red barns, horses, cattle and windmills old and new.  The wind blew nonstop, so the windmills seem to make a lot of sense.  We had read about a Swedish winery and were intrigued, so we loaded the address into the GPS in the rental car and made our way to Simrishamn.

nordic sea winery



The Nordic Sea Winery is a Swedish winery, sort of.  They don’t grow their own wine grapes yet (the vines out front are ornamental), you can’t buy a bottle of wine there, and tastings are scheduled in advance only on certain days, but we did have a wonderful lunch accompanied by a glass of one of the wines.  Nordic Sea Winery buys the wine from many countries, and then ages it at the Nordic Sea Winery.  I give them points for giving it a try, as buying alcohol in Sweden is harder than in the US.  It is not in the grocery stores, but only sold in a few locations.  The facility was impressive and they are definitely giving it a good try.  The salmon lunch was quite tasty, and reasonably priced too.

Nordic sea winery interior



The little town of Simrishamn is known for its streets of pretty houses.  We followed a walking tour of the old town and stopped to buy some textiles.  One of the only two stores in the area to buy wine was in the town, so we stopped there too.

blue and yellow houses


pink house

The second full day of our vacation still found us wide awake at 0400.  It also happened to be the Summer Solstice, June 21.  So what do you do when you can’t sleep at 0400 on the Summer Solstice?  We drove back up to the Ale’s Stenar to see the early morning sun come up over the ancient stones.  We were the only tourists there at 0500.  The following pictures are from 0500 on the Solstice.

summer solstice sunrise

K and L at stones

Solstice stones

Southern Sweden is home to quite a few castles and old estates.  We visited two, but only toured the interior of one.  Our first stop was Kronovall Castle (also a hotel), where we had planned to have lunch.  We had read that the estate serves lunch beginning Midsommar, but it really didn’t start until the next Saturday, the day all Swedes celebrate Midsommar, not the actual Summer Solstice date.



We walked the grounds then headed to Svaneholm Castle.  Not only was Svaneholm open, but they also had a special exhibit of dresses called In The Style Of Downton Abbey.  It was a collection of dresses, hats, and shoes worn by previous castle owners during the same time period as the PBS show Downton Abbey.  The castle was also full of antiques.  It was a nice tour and afterwards we enjoyed coffee and fika on the grounds before driving back into Malmo to drop off our rental car and take a train up to Almhult to meet with family and celebrate Midsommar.


Svaneholm Castle

Svaneholm castle window

Posted in Sweden | 3 Comments

Springtime in Oregon

plum blossom

A close-up of a plum blossom

purple and blue

Lilacs are my favorite flower, but timing a visit to Oregon while they are blooming is problematic.  This past winter and spring have been very cold and rainy in Oregon, so most plants are a few weeks behind what they were last year.  But I had the last week of April off from work, so I went up to the great Northwest in hopes of catching some lilacs in bloom.

white lilac, blue sky

My mom and I took a two day mini getaway to visit the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens and a few vineyards in the Willamette Valley.

Hulda's house

With constant rain and no sunshine, it was a gamble.  But we headed to the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland, Washington for the Lilac Days which began April 22nd, and runs through Mothers Day.


Hulda's bedroom

Hulda Klager’s bedroom in the old house.

Hulda's kitchen

The kitchen in the Hulda Klager house

Not all the lilacs were in bloom, but enough were to satisfy my craving for them.   While we were there, the sun peaked out just enough to give me some blue backgrounds.  I was testing out a new Nikon Micro lens and was in search of a good lilac close-up.

good lilac

white lilac

pink lilac

A Moskvy Lilac at the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

We toured Hulda’s house, only open during the Lilac Days, and enjoyed her garden.  Her home was built in 1889.  She worked with lilacs for years, and had 14 new varieties to show for it.  She passed away in 1960, and the local garden club stepped in to save the home and gardens.  Since 1976 the Hulda Klager Lilac Society has owned and maintained the Gardens.


The Hulda Klager home and gardens

sensation lilac

Sensation Lilac

After touring the lilac gardens, we headed south toward the Willamette Valley.  I had made reservations at the Joseph Mattey House B&B, square in the middle of the Oregon wine country.   The Joseph Mattery House B&B was built in 1892.  It was comfortable, centrally located and with gracious propietors who made a wonderful breakfast.  I would recommend staying there, and they even gave us passes for free wine tastings in the valley.       http://matteyhouse.com/

Mattey house

Mattey House B&B

Just minutes from the Mattey House B&B is Anne Amie Vineyards.  That was our first stop for wine tasting on the first evening.  There is no better view of the Willamette Valley than the tasting room at Anne Amie.  And it turned out to be complementary because we were staying at the Mattey House.

Anne Amie view

The view from the Anne Amie tasting room

Anne Amie tasting

Mattey house Pinot Noir room

The Pinot Noir room at the Joseph Mattey House B&B

Mattey house vines

Our second day was set up with two wine tastings.   Four Graces is located in Dundee, Oregon, a short 15 minute drive from the Mattey House B&B.

4 graces tasting room

The Four Graces tasting room.  The people were awesome and indulged me with a blind tasting.

blind tasting

I had made this appointment in advance, and requested a blind tasting.  Having just finished the book Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, I have been trying to train my nose to pick out different scents.  Four Graces brought in three bottles in paper bags, so I could taste them blind.  Yes I knew they were Pinot Noirs, but the Four Graces wine list includes 22 Pinot Noirs, so I had no illusions that I could match the glass with the exact wine, but I was happy to be able to pick out the reserve from the three glasses.

L at 4 Graces

mom at 4 graces

My mom at Four Graces

The Four Graces Willamette Valley Pinot Gris is perfect for summer, so I ordered a few bottles.  My mother and I tasted four Pinot Noirs, all good, but the 2014 Lindsey’s Reserve Pinor Noir was stellar, so I also ordered two of those.   We also both liked the 2014 Dundee Hills Reserve Pinot Noir.

Patton valley

The “Smelling Station” in the Patton Valley tasting room.  It was fun to try to name the scents.

mason jars

From the Four Graces tasting room we drove back roads through the valley to the Patton Valley tasting room in Gaston.  This is another of my favorites.

On the wall of the tasting room they have a shelf of mason jars containing essences of what you might smell in a bottle of wine.  My mom and I went through the line-up, testing our smelling capabilities.  It was fun.

One of my favorite Pinot Noirs from Oregon is the 2012 Patton Valley Lorna-Marie.  It is no longer widely available, but a few bottles were discovered in their library, and I put them on hold.

We got lucky with a few moments when the sun broke through, but Oregon is pretty water logged at this point and most of the residents are ready for some sun.

Wee Willie closeup (2)

Wee Willie Winkie, my Oregon cat

Posted in Family, Food and Wine, Oregon, Seasons & Holidays, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Happy Easter, Happy Spring!

Whether you celebrate Easter as the most religious of Christian holidays when Jesus rose from the dead, or celebrate the season as a pagan with the renewal of the earth (in the northern hemisphere) after a dormant winter and the coming of new life, it is a time of joy, rebirth, and color, after the darkness of winter.

From my grandmother’s post card collection, here are a few old Easter greetings:

This post card is post marked March 9, 1918, 99 year old. Sent from my Great Grandmother to my Grandmother when she was 22.

I love that the sheep in this post card have natural tails.

This old post card was sent from my Great Grandmother to her son, my uncle, when he was young.

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Napa Valley to the Russian River Valley

Domaine Carneros, Napa, California

Finding myself in San Francisco on a Friday night, and with no immediate need to get home and back to work, I decided to spend the weekend in Napa Valley.

All the flowering trees were in bloom

Past experience has taught me to keep the tastings to a maximum of three per day.  Calling ahead for a reservation was required at only one of my stops on Saturday, but it is helpful to check to see if reservations are required.  First stop for Saturday was Domaine Carneros, for a taste of sparkling wine.  Their tasting area is a large and impressive chateau with a very grand staircase.  I ordered the tasting that compared four sparkling wines.  Two I liked, two I did not, but the price of the one I liked best, Blanc de Noir ($39), seemed excessive and why wouldn’t I just buy Veuve Clicquot?

Domaine Carneros sparkling line up

My second stop at J Vineyards, inspired by the WOPN sparkling brunch in Santa Barbara the previous weekend, was in the Russian River Valley.  It was over an hour drive from Carneros to J, but it is beautiful in places.  I had really enjoyed their Brut Rose and wanted to try more of their selections.  There is still ongoing construction at the J vineyards tasting facility, so a temporary area is set up outside.  I did the $20 Signature Tasting, 6 wines, but it did not include the bottle I ended up buying.  A good wine steward will offer something off the menu if they see you have a preference, and look like you may buy a bottle or two.  I ended up with two bottles of J Vineyards Estate Grown 2013 Robert Thomas Vineyard Pinot Noir.

J Vineyards in the Russian River Valley

J Signature tasting menu

J’s Brut Rose. They were sold out of the sparkling I had tasted at the WOPN

J Pinot Noir

The Camaro SS, my rental for the weekend, was oh so much more fun than the Mustang of the previous weekend and sported 455 hp.  It was quite thrilling on the back roads, and made it easier to make the tightly booked 3 pm appointment at Gary Farrell, stop number three.  Tastings are by appointment only at Gary Farrell so I had emailed them with my interest, and they called me back with time options.

The 2017 Camaro SS I had over the weekend. I was impressed with the car.

Gary Farrell tastings are set up in private tents.  Two other guests were scheduled for the same tasting as me and we had a fun time with Mario, our charming Italian wine steward.  Mario had good stories and pulled out some special wines, and I walked out with two bottles of Gary Farrell 2014 Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard – Dijon Clones   Pinot Noir.

The tasting tent at Gary Farrell


With dinner recommendations from my two tasting partners at Gary Farrell, I headed to Healdsburg in search of the Italian restaurant that was mentioned.  I’d never been to Healdsburg before, and it’s a cute little town.  I’d like to go back some time to take a closer look.  The original restaurant recommendation did not work out, but I was sent to a sister restaurant, Campo Fina.

A street in the cute little town of Healdsburg

After dinner I made the drive back to Napa and the beautiful little boutique B&B in Napa I had found, Milliken Creek Inn and Spa.  I would recommend it.

Miliken Creek Inn and Spa lobby

A room at Miliken Creek Inn and Spa

Miliken Creek Inn

I had no planned stops for Sunday, but had been emailing Maggy Hawk, another discovery from the WOPN weekend.  My sister and I had tasted their Pinot Noirs and out of the over 80 vendors present, Maggy Hawk stood out to me.  Through back and forth emails, I came to understand that Maggy Hawk does not have its own tasting room, but is part of the Spire group.

Quintessa’s gate

With no particular vineyard in mind, and no agenda other than good photographs, I headed north along the Silverado Trail.  The trees were all flowering, and it was a beautiful day, but the vines were all in their winter dormant stage, so not terribly photogenic.

The dormant grape vines this time of year. Pruning will be done soon, and the ground cover will be cut back

Still, when I saw a winding road going up a hill, I turned onto the drive and headed up to Rutherford Hills Winery.  This vineyard and tasting room has a gorgeous view and guided tours of the ground, caves, and tank room.

The Rutherford Hills facility. The flowering trees are ornamental pears.

The view into the valley from the Rutherford Hills Winery

I arrived just in time to join a guided tour and tasting for $40.  The Italian heritage of the owners is evident in the antique Italian chandeliers in the caves and the stylish accouterments.  The tasting I enjoyed the most was their blend, Episode.  I did not purchase any wine here though.

Rutherford Hills tasting room

The doors to the wine caves at Rutherford Hills. The caves are on the tour

The chandelier is an Italian antique, inside the wine caves

A closeup of the Rutherford Hills antique Italian chandelier

There were three of the chandeliers

The Rutherford Hills wine I liked the best was a blend called Episode

After completing the tour at Rutherford Hills, I decided to stop at Hall Vineyards, a short distance away on St. Helena Highway.  I’d recently read Craig and Kathryn Hall’s book A Perfect Score, and had enjoyed a bottle of their 100 point Cabernet.  It seemed fitting to visit the tasting room and I wanted to see the art collection the Hall’s mentioned in their book.

Bunny Foo Foo greets guests at the entrance to Hall Vineyards

The tasting room at the Hall facility

There are many wines to taste at Hall

Pouring Jack’s Masterpiece

The Hall tasting room was beautiful, the view was great, and the wine samples were never ending.  At some point I had to stop and give myself a break, as I was beginning to get taste overload.  While at Hall, I got another email from Spire saying there were no tastings available for Sunday.  Not five minutes later however, my phone rang and they said I could “Come on up at 4:15”.

Hall tasting facility

Less than half an hour later I was being greeted by Estate Host Sam at Spire.  It is a “by appointment only” tasting room, owned by the Jackson family.  They own quite a few high end wineries and vineyards from several countries.  Maggy Hawk, the wine I was there to taste, is just one of the names.

The Spire tasting building;   http://www.spirecollection.com/

The three Maggy Hawk Pinot Noirs I tasted at Spire

I tasted the three Pinot’s I remembered from the WOPN and also tried a 2015 Galerie Naissance Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  The tasting room was awesome, great views, and wide open doors to enjoy the fresh air and see vines.  I ended up joining the club and ordering 6 bottles.  Sam was very gracious to accommodate my last minute request late Sunday afternoon.

Sam also gave me another recommendation for dinner on my way south, Farmstead.  I did have dinner there and it was good.

Farmstead;   http://www.longmeadowranch.com/

My observations from the weekend include:

  1.  A reinforcement of the three tasting maximum per day
  2. I loved the Camaro SS and would buy one if I already didn’t have too many vehicles.
  3. I would highly recommend Miliken Creek Inn and Spa.  https://www.millikencreekinn.com/
  4. Don’t miss out on the tasting experience at the Spire Collection, http://www.spirecollection.com/
  5. Hall Vineyards has a LOT of nice Cabernets.  http://www.hallwines.com/
Posted in California, Food and Wine | 6 Comments

Black Sand, Cowries and Turtles, or, Just Messing Around

It should come as no surprise that there are many black sand beaches on Hawaii’s Big Island.  Driving the main highways (11 and 19), you see vast areas of lava flow fields cutting a wide swath from the flanks of the mountains all the way down to the sea.  Where the lava flow meets the sea, the hardened lava has been crushed into sand.  Some of the beaches are well known tourist spots, but many are unmarked.

I heard of one unmarked black sand beach from three different local people.  It was just south of where I was staying, and because I was headed south towards Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge) I looked for the landmarks as described by two of them.  One person said to look for a lone palm, another said a group of palms, one said 10 minutes drive and another said 15.  There was no sign or marking for the beach I was looking for, and I did not find it on my first attempt.

Daylight Mind Cafe

Eggs Benedict Hawaiian style at the Daylight Mind Cafe

After breakfast at Daylight Mind Cafe in the Queen’s Marketplace, my first stop was the Kekahakai State Park just north of the Kona airport.  It looked like an interesting road, and it was more than that.  The sign warning of “unimproved roads” was an understatement.  I saw some people turn back.

The unimproved road to the state park

Kekaha Kai State Park

After investigating the State Park, I continued south towards Pu’uhonaua o Honaunau, a National Historic Park and sacred place.  Here the bones of ancestral chiefs lay protected in a temple and priests could save the lives of those facing the punishment of death.  I took an unplanned less than direct road to the site, but it was interesting.  Instead of taking the 160 off 11, I turned too early and zigzagged my way down a hill, passing small farms on steep terrain and older homes, ending up on a single lane road.  At about the point I was questioning my direction, I saw a handwritten sign nailed to a fence pointing the way to the Place of Refuge.

The Visitor Center at the Place of Refuge National Historic Park

The most enthusiastic person on the island, a park ranger manning the gate, took my fee and directed me to a parking space.  The Visitor Center tells the story of the migration of the Polynesian people and their way of life.  A map guides you around the Royal Grounds and replicas of original structures.  The most stunning building is the Hale o Keawe, the royal mausoleum, and the massive wall that surrounds the entire area.   The wall is up to 12 feet tall, 18 feet wide, and over 950 feet long.  It was built over 400 years ago using dry set masonry (without mortar).  It was impressive.

Hawaiian Gods surrounds the temple building

The wall

Hale o Keawe at the Place of Refuge

The best part about this visit for me was the green sea turtle (Honu) I saw feeding in the Keone’ele, or protected cove where only the canoes of the chiefs (ali’i) were allowed to land.   The water was so clear you could see the colorful fish from standing eight feet above the water.

The first turtle I saw in the Royal Lagoon of the Place of Refuge

The turtle feeding

This place had special spiritual powers to the ancient Hawaiians, and today is protected as a National Historic Park.

Heading north again along 19, I searched for the landmarks denoting the trail for the black sand beach.   Two likely spots emerged, and I decided I would check them out the following day.

As I handed my keys to the valet parking person, she inquired about my day.  Here was another opportunity to get a third set of directions to the unmarked black sand beach.  She was very helpful, and not only gave better directions to the beach, but also gave me tips on where to find sea turtles.  She said her father was pure Hawaiian, and when his family had cast her grandparents’ ashes into the sea, two sea turtles had come up, leading the family to believe that her grandparents’ spirits had returned in the shape of turtles.  She gave me directions to the spot where this had happened.

Turtle motif gate at a house along Puako Bay

First thing the next morning, stopping only for a café latte, I headed to the area where the woman had reunited with her turtle grandparents.

As you drive along the waterfront homes, many had beautiful gates with turtle motifs.  There were public access trails all along the stretch of ocean front.  Where the land meets the sea, it is mostly lava, coral, and rocks, with only small beachy areas.

Here I saw the turtles I had been hoping for.  The natural pools were filled with turtles feeding and I saw more than a dozen in one pool.  Two turtles were sunning themselves on the small beach, where signs warned people to keep their distance.

There is a turtle on the sand in the lower left hand area of this picture

Feeling pretty good about following the directions to the turtle pools, I headed south again for another shot at the unmarked black sand beach.  With the updated directions I found what I was looking for.  Not far south of Waikoloa, (between mile markers 78 and 79) there is a wide spot next to the highway where you can park.  This area is a lava flow field and quite treacherous when not on the worn path.  Just off the highway a gate blocked a rough road.  I parked, walked around the gate and started the 20 minute walk to the beach.  The first portion was pretty easy along a lava road, dark and hot, but not tough.  Where that road ends at a locked gate and fence topped with barbed wire, you must follow a trail cut through the lava.  This was tougher, and was wearing inappropriate shoes, the ever present flip flops.  But the searching and the walk were worth it.

The easy part of the trail to the black sand beach

The black sand beach was stunning, and an added plus were the many cowries on the shore, just waiting to be picked up.  The beach had a steep grade and the surf was pounding, so I did not swim.  I had the beach to myself for a bit, before a few other people showed up.  I found at least 20 shiny cowrie shells, and one live one.

A cowrie on the sand, waiting to be found

The only live cowrie I have ever seen.  It was attached to a limpet.

I felt the day to be a complete success, which was topped off with a late lunch of grilled freshly caught Mahi Mahi, which was the best fish I have had in quite a while.



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Exploring Hawaii’s Big Island

Hawaii’s Big Island has a lot to offer besides warm water and sandy beaches.  As a matter of fact, beaches is the least of what this island has to offer.  How often do you get the chance to see volcanoes spewing lava, black sand and turtles?

I chose to visit Hawaii’s Big Island exactly because I wanted to see something different.

Waipi’o Valley

On my first day of touring, I drove from the west coast of the island, Waikoloa Beach, via 19 towards the east coast.   My first stop was the Waipi’o Valley Lookout.

My rental Jeep

From there I continued along the Hwy 19 scenic drive toward Hilo.  This area is not only scenic but also has a lot of agriculture.  Second stop was Akaka Falls State Park.

Akaka Falls

A lizard on a Sweet Banana plant along the trail to Akaka Falls

My destination was ‘the end of the road’, Volcanoes National Park and the current lava flow, which everyone was talking about.  I was told to park at the end of the road and walk the 4 miles to where the lava hits the sea.

By the time I got to the parking lot it was about 4 pm.  Sunset was 6:30.  I was unprepared for the walk over the lava, in the heat.  Luckily there were about 15 bicycle rental tents.  For a negotiated $15, I got a bicycle, a backpack, a bottle of water and a headlamp.  At the time, I didn’t think I’d need the headlamp.

I don’t think I could have done the walk out and back, but it was possible on the bike.  The “trail” out to the lava flow was actually a gravel government road over lava, but with road blocks.  The Volcanoes National Park border was marked with a gate.

The lava road out to the lava flow

Ropes keep tourists at a safe distance

There are ropes and danger signs keeping tourists  out of the danger zone.  To get a really awesome view, it would be best from the water.

Crowds gathered at the edge of the ropes and waited for sunset.  I watched as the light faded, and with it, the glow of the lava became ever more evident.

Where the lava hit the sea, during the day

Where the lava meets the sea, as the sun set. You could see the bursts of molten lava

I wish I had packed a tripod.  Many had.  As darkness fell, the lava flow became more and more impressive.  As I climbed onto my bike to pedal the 4 miles back to the parking lot, I could see the rivers of lava flowing down the side of the volcano, which I could not see earlier in the light of day.

Returning to the west coast, I drove the shortest route back, Hwy 200 over Mauna Kea.  Mauna Kea’s elevation is 13,796.  I’m not sure of the pass elevation, but I navigated through clouds, heavy rain and lightning as I made my way westward.

As I was leaving the ‘end of the road’ parking lot at about 730 pm, I saw people just then mounting bikes with headlamps headed to the lava flow.  I understand now why they left that late.  The temperature was much more manageable after sunset (the path was all black lava), and the most spectacular views were in the dark.  You live and learn.

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