Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Warmer New Year's Eve in Phuket, Thailand

The opposite of spending New Year's Eve in Lapland was spending this last one in tropical Thailand. Specifically we were on the very south tip of Phuket Island, in the town of Rawai. That morning after breakfast at our villa, we met our hired longtail boat driver (who we reserved the day before), and had a quick ride out to Bon Island.
Our driver let us off after we agreed on a pick up time for later in the afternoon. Bon Island is tiny and uninhabited except for an outdoor restaurant that sets up daily for lunch. Every day the owner Dawn, a British transplant to Phuket, comes over by longtail with her crew. They bring everything they'll need to open and run the restaurant for lunch; fresh fish, beverages, ice, etc. The island has no electricity- they have a generator for some kitchen equipment- and the open-air restaurant is the only building so nothing is left after hours.

There were a few people when we arrived but they left shortly after, and a small group on a tour came a bit later. But all in all it was incredibly peaceful. We just had to share space with the Hermit crabs.

The island has two beaches, one quite rocky but also protected from the wind and waves. The nicer beach had a larger surf that day but was less rocky and easier to swim in. We sunbathed a bit, swam a bit, dozed under the coconut trees, and then grabbed a table in the restaurant when Dawn and her team were set up.
Our lunch was made up of piña coladas, beers, fresh fish with garlic, chilis, and herbs, green papaya salad, and prawns. Everything was simple but quite good. It's really just a little beach shack and a nice place to get away to for a few hours.

After lunch our driver came and picked us up for our short ride back over the bay. If you're looking for a spot for a casual, toes-in-the-sand kind of quick get away, I'd recommend a ride to Ko Bon. (Ko means island in Thai)
photo courtesy of Forest Collins
Back on the main island we had planned to check out Karon Beach for the afternoon, but after circling the town multiple times in search of parking we decided it was too busy and we headed to the smaller beach Kata, just south of Karon. This was absolutely perfect! We easily found street parking and on our way to the beach passed a banana pancake vendor- it was our first taste of the completely addictive snack on the trip!

The beach was beautiful, busy but not over run. We swam in the warm water and soaked up some sun. Forest and I decided to go have an hour foot massage at one of the places just across from the beach (which cost us 300 Baht or $9). We met the guys back on the beach and bobbed around in the surf as the sun started to sink.
photo courtesy of Forest Collins
We drove back at our villa and had aperos with champagne in the pool. Well I was in the pool! Fireworks were going off all around in our neighborhood. Then we got cleaned up and headed to Rawai beach for more champagne, grilled skewers from a street vendor, and fireworks at a sea side restaurant called Nikka.  It was warm, the breeze smelled of the tropics, and there was sand everywhere. We headed home to drink more champagne, so that part is not totally the opposite of Lapland!

All Phuket photos here

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New Year's Eve; A Chilly Story

We try to vary our New Year's Eve trips between cold and warm weather locations. Some wonder aloud to us why we would want to hang out in the dark and freezing cold, why we wouldn't always want to be on a warm tropical beach. But honestly, it is fun to get all bundled up! And the snow and the cold add a certain light, a certain serenity to places. Now a beach ain't a bad situation either!

For New Year's Eve 2013 six of us were in a log cabin in the tiny town of Äkäslompolo, Finland. This is an area in Lapland 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The town boarders a lake by the same name. Here it is, the red dot on the map, you can see that it is about as north as you can get before you fall into the Barents Sea. So yeah, it was cold. And beautiful.

The morning of New Year's Eve we were all picked up by bus and taken about an hour north to a reindeer farm. I don't think too many people have typed that sentence before! The family who owns the farm has had it and their herd for many years, and makes their living off of all things reindeer. This was no tourist show, although they host many, even the traditional Sami dress is something they still wear. We booked our tour through Destination Lapland

We started the day with a sled ride, ours pulled by Rocky, and each couple got their own sled. The reindeer were harnessed together with one being the lead so there was no need to drive or do anything except for enjoy the ride. As they got to running, Matt & Vio's reindeer who was behind us, tried to pass! We were all laughing and having a great time!

When we finished our ride we were invited into the owners' home for lunch. There was homemade reindeer soup (don't be the slow sled puller!), fresh baked bread, and blueberry juice. The owner told me she also grows her own vegetables for the soup. It was all absolutely delicious. 

After our lunch it was our turn to feed the reindeer. They eat dried moss and the farm owners buy it in bulk. They get pretty excited when those bags of moss come out!

With both people and reindeer being fed, we gathered around a toasty fire, the logs covered with pelts, and were offered coffee and cookies. They passed around some horns so everyone could feel how heavy there are and then taught everyone how to throw a lasso, practicing around some mounted horns. There was a traditional teepee to check out and also a little museum they had put together of their family history and artifacts of the Sami culture. It was all so interesting, cool, and fun!

Once we got home Forest and I walked (with sleds) to the grocery store and returned to make a nice dinner for everyone. We stared with some lovely foie gras that Forest & Thibault had brought from France, as well as some patė, and elk sausage we had bought in Estonia. And cocktails of course! Then we cooked a nice baked salmon dinner with roasted potatoes, cucumbers in yogurt, and green salad.

After dinner we all walked down to the frozen lake, armed with champagne bottles and flasks. The streetlights were turned off and luminaries were lit and lining the snowy sidewalks. We gathered with the rest of the town and lined up to purchase paper lanterns. At midnight everyone lit and released their lanterns, and we all took our turn setting ours upward. 

We watched as the lanterns floated peacefully up into the sky, little lights twinkling (mine crashed and burned in a tree!), drank our champagne, and then walked home through the snowy night.

Photos here

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Napa Weekends, Part 2

Earlier this month, Dave and Rachel invited Dayne and I to join them and their two girls for the weekend at their house in St. Helena. I'd been last summer but this was Dayne's first time at their new place. The six of us grabbed a late afternoon flight down on a chilly Seattle February Friday and landed to a balmy evening at the Santa Rosa airport.

Being that the weather called for mid 70's all weekend Dayne had reserved a convertible for us but when he went to the Avis counter they said they were all out of them! We slid over to the Enterprise counter and not only did they have one but they matched the price. I'm going to remember that in the future.

Once we got to their house, Dave opened some champagne and built a fire in the outdoor fire pit, we grilled some pork loin for dinner, I opened a nice bottle of Leonetti that I had brought down with me (like coal to Newcastle as a friend of mine says), and we spent a little time in the relaxing hot tub.
The next morning Rachel and I took the convertible and drove to Round Pond where I'd made us a tasting appointment. The winery also makes their own olive oil and you can book a tour to see that, as well as actual cellar tours. We didn't have a lot of time so we just did the wine tasting in their Zinc Bar. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and it would have been fabulous to spend time on their patio but that was reserved for another type of tasting event.
The wines were quite nice, so we finished up our tasting with some purchasing, and then headed off to meet Dave, Dayne and the girls for a tasting at Wicker. Ron Wicker produces wine from his Howell Mountain vineyard, where his house is also conveniently located. We arrived at his home where his wife Laurie and he poured their Burgundy style Chardonnay (fantastic!) and also a selection of his Cab Sauvs. They are incredibly nice people who are very generous with their time, Ron walked us out to the vineyards for a bit; so small and on such a hill. Ron also demonstrated the Coravin for us while opening an older vintage bottle for us, that cool gadget is going on my wish list! Anyone else have one? Thoughts?

Our appointment at Wicker ran quite a bit longer than we expected and we were all starving as it was about 3:30 in the afternoon by this time. Dayne and I took the girls in the convertible and we all headed to downtown St Helena for a late lunch/early dinner at Cook Tavern.
I had a nice cocktail, and Dayne and I shared some tasty fried pickles. Dinners were all good and the staff was great at helping us find things for the girls to eat. Headed home after dinner for some pool and hot tub time, wine, fire pit, and a movie. Perfect Valentine's day!

The next day all of us drove up to Spring Mountain to Newton Winery for a reserved tour and tasting. The vineyards, views, and winery are all gorgeous. The tour was very interesting and the wine tasting was held afterwards in a private room with views of the valley. Very nice! Dave and I had gone in on a case of their unfiltered Cab years back so it was great to see where it had come from and also to pick up some more.

At lunchtime Rachel and I left the guys and the girls at Gott's Roadside as we had spa appointments across the street and the line to order was taking too long. But after our massages the two of us headed back over and had a late lunch of tacos, burgers, and wine outside on the picnic tables. There is something just so RIGHT about being able to order wine with your roadside burger! The line was still crazy long when we left at about 3:30pm. *I've got a special secret hint for my friends when going here to bypass the crazy line. You know how to reach me ;)

We had a nice walk back to the house and joined our gang in the pool. Later that night, after some hot tub time, the boys went out and brought back pizzas for dinner. We had a great time relaxing, making s'mores on the fire pit, and then chilling with wine and movies.

The next morning we woke up to another 75F degree day so Dayne and I spent an hour sunning ourselves by the pool before packing and leaving our friends to a day on their own. We stopped in Calistoga for a casual lunch of fish tacos at Palisade's Deli enjoyed al fresco on the way to the airport.

The drive to Santa Rosa was lovely and warm, we were so happy to have the convertible (in February!!). We boarded the little prop plane and headed home  to some sun of our own (but no where near 75F!) Big thanks to our friends for a wonderful weekend!

Recent Napa photos here

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