Travelling By Twos – Plus One

Growing up vacation was the big adventure.  It began in the darkness before the dawn.  Bags packed the night before so that we could be “wheels up” bright and early before the bright had even arrived.  Three boys in back grabbing some quick sleep at first then swapping comics or whatever to keep us quiet.  Discord, rancor and misbehavior not permitted.

Traveling bag

The trip that took all five of us to Washington, D.C. in a Volkswagen Beetle still amazes me.  Not merely that didn’t kill one another in those tight quarters but that we fit luggage for five in it!

Then it was vacation with my own family.  Three of us plus my nephew sometimes.  We’ve made pretty good travel companions.  The year we went to Chicago when R was still little enough to be in a car seat.  We recorded the audio of her favorite videos and taught her to use her own cassette player.  We drove deep into the heart of the Midwest as she calmly swapped out tapes, singing along with “Baby Beluga”.

Well today we’re going to do something new and different.  We will travel together as a family of adults.  The destination is Williamsburg, VA.  I’ve been twice, my lady wife has been once and R has only heard us talk about it.

We’ll start tomorrow right before the sun breeches the horizon.  Some of us may choose to doze for a while.  Three drivers and the promise of a cool pool
at the end of a long day of driving.

Traditions new and old.

Looking forward to it.


Travelling By Twos – Final Thoughts on NE Ohio Wine Country

First of all, we had a really good time.  Folks were generally pleasant, the weather was good enough and we found some wines we really liked.

But we also noted a couple things that we haven’t seen in the other areas we’ve done similar tours.

The Sample Tray – We got some version of this at a bunch of places.  As a general rule we’re not fans.  The worst places were the ones that gave you a little flat tray like you get at a fast food restaurant with small (even tiny) plastic sample cups.  Several places did slightly better with real glasses and nicer presentations.  The problem with this overall style is that it leaves you on your own.  One of the real benefits of a tasting bar is the chance to talk with knowledgeable staff about their wines and how they’re made.

Drinks at the Bar – There were several places where the sampling was done at the bar of the restaurant.  Problem is that the folks behind the bar are primarily bartenders.  They get paid to pour drinks not talk about them.  Again, shows no great concern about their wine.

Wineries at the Restaurant – Combining a winery with a restaurant is an obvious and reasonable thing to do.  The problem is that some of the “wineries” were restaurants that cranked out cheap wine to cash in on the wine tourist biz.  In every one of those cases the wine was awful (even when the food was good).  The best places recognized the two distinct natures of the businesses and treated each with respect.  Those places were much more of a “restaurant at the winery” situation.

In the end we are attracted to places that show some passion about making wine.  Places that take the time to teach their folks about the process and the product.  Finally we like the places that create a fun and beautiful place to sample their product.  We found a bunch of them and we’re looking forward to going back to visit them again.

Travelling by Twos – Last Day in Ohio Wine Country

Got ourselves a nice final day of wine tourism on a beautiful sunny day.

We started off with a nice little family run place, Virant Family Winery.  It’s not as splashy as some of the others but that’s fine.  Relaxed, homey kind of place with some interesting wines.  We snagged a tasty Cabernet Franc (the current favorite varietal of my Lady)

A beautiful drive out into lots of vineyards brought us to the folks at M Cellars.  A gorgeous building in a wonderful setting.  Inside is a beautiful tasting room that reminded us of our favorite local winery,  21 Brix.  Turns out that the folks at M Cellars know 21 Brix and used it as a bit of an inspiration.  The wines were very good as was the staff.  We went with a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend.

Right across the road from M Cellars is the Red Eagle Distillery.  They specialize in Bourbon and Rye whiskies made from local corn.  Neither of us drink whiskey so we took a pass.  Next visit we may take a look.

Just up the road (as in you can see it from M Cellars) is South River Vineyard.  Housed in an old church with beautiful patio areas added outside this winery easily led the way in unique and charming ambiance.  As we were sticking with dry reds we tried a flight of four.  No cafeteria tray here with dinky plastic cups.  Beautiful wood holder with nicely sized glasses.  Three blends (named Karma, Exodus and Trinity) and a Cabernet Franc.  Liked all of them but went with Trinity, an off dry blend of Cab Franc, Pinot Noir and Chambercin.  Very nice.

Next up was Spring Hill Winery.  Another nice winery, nice room, great outside seating, knowledgeable staff and nice wines.  And I feel really, REALLY guilty that we didn’t buy anything here.  The problem is that they were at the end of our trip, we already had lots of wine and were looking for the really outstanding wine at that point.  If we had visited Spring Hill at the beginning of the trip we probably would have bought both of the dry reds they offer.  If you’re planning a trip definitely put these folks on your list.  We will.    So guilty feeling.

Our next stop was Deer’s Leap Winery.  Um, if you can’t say something nice, remain silent?  Nothing to recommend here.

We wrapped up with another winner at Laurello Vineyards.  The outside looks pretty plain but the inside was beautiful.  The lady behind the tasting counter knew her stuff (great discussion over the myth that the NE Ohio region can’t grow good dry red wine  grapes) and some fabulous wines.  Nice flight of four wines in wine glasses and a very nice wooden carrier.  We tried a dry white blend called Josephine that we liked plus three reds.  Really came down to two and the condition of the bank account.  In the end we decided we could only snag one.  Sigh.  Really loved the Chianti-style red blend called Cosmo but decided to go with the Christopher Reserve Cuvee 2009+2010.  Really nice now and the wine master believes will be even better in a year.  So we dropped a few more $$ and will put this one away till next year.  A really wonderful coda to our trip.

In the next post I’ll take a look at our overall impressions of this part of the wine universe.

I do want to give a nod to several places where we ate that we really liked.  Dinner at the Lake House Inn was great (some of the stuff going to tables near us looked INCREDIBLE), lunch at Grand River Cellars Winery was wonderful,  we did dinner at Eddie’s Grill in Geneva On the Lake which was just fun (burgers and hot dogs in an environment that is vaguely reminiscent of places like Cafe du Monde.  Similar kind of energy too).  Finally we grabbed lunch on Sunday in Painesville Ohio at a place called Sammy’s Family Restaurant.  Nothing fancy but a happy vibe, great service and good food.  I had a Corned Beef on Rye that was delicious, the Lady got a Monte Cristo.  So we had some great food to go along with our wines.

This was a fun trip.  Looking for a fun weekend away?  You could have a great time in NE Ohio.

Travelling by Twos

So for the holiday weekend I and the Lady in my Life decide to get away for a little together time.  Since she spent most of the first third of the year in St. Louis it’s just a little make up time for us.   We decided to explore the wine country of northeastern Ohio.  A couple years ago we did a similar trip  to the wineries along the Niagara escarpment on Lake Ontario.  Simple plan, rent a hotel room in a nearby town and then explore at our leisure.  Over a couple days we can easily (and safely) do about a dozen wineries.

Well if day one is any indication this trip may not go as well as that other one.

We got into our hotel in Austinburg.  So far so good.  Nice room and that’s all we really need.  We decide to hit a couple of the wineries that are up on Lake Erie, one of which has what looks to be a very nice restaurant attached.  Get in a couple tastings and then do dinner.  It’s a plan.

First place is The Old Firehouse Winery.  Right on the lake, they have a ferris wheel and good sized water slide next door (neither up and running yet but hey, still pretty cool).  Lots of outside dining area (sadly WAY too cool this weekend for that) and a neat collection of fire department stuff inside.  They do a really nice job of getting maximum seating in a very small footprint.  We were upstairs with a nice view of the lake.

The wines were average to to mediocre.  The one we liked best (Reflections of Lake Erie) had actually sold out!  Presentation left a LOT to be desired.  You get little plastic covered cups (and I mean small) on a tray.  No one to talk about the wines, no one to tell you about the winery.  Zip.  Here’s your plastic tray with your  10 little cups (including one of spumante that was flat from having sat around too long).  Disappointing.

Second up was the Lake House Inn and Winery.  Again, great location on the lake.  The dining room (which doubles as tasting room during cold weather) is gorgeous.  Seats about 60 or so.  Food was very good with prices that were just slightly on the high side (7 oz steak with sides for $34.  Not terrible, especially for a destination type location).  Then the problems started.  They had, in this very small room, a guy with a sound system doing crooner type lounge music.  He has the looks for it but has the strangest stage presence and most off putting vocal style.  Nice voice but he’s doing all this smooth crooner music and inserting this odd tempo to it.   Picture a waltz done by a man with a peg leg.  Just weird.  The part that really stuck with me was when he did “The Girl From Ipanema”, the early ’60s bossa nova hit.  The classic line from the song is “The girl from Ipanema goes walking and when she passes each one she passes goes aaaaaaahhhh”.  Now the classic interpretation of that aaaah is a long almost sensuous tribute to the legendary beauty of the young lady.  What we got was a lot closer to the sound you make when the doctor wants to look at your tonsils.  I don’t want to be too hard on the young man.  He has more than enough voice for the songs and he certainly has the looks for the role of crooner.  I just don’t get the interpretations.

The next problem was with the wines.  We’ve picked up two ways of doing business here in Ohio that we haven’t seen elsewhere that don’t impress us.  I’ll wait till closer to the end to pass judgement.  The wines we tried (and we’re sticking pretty much to the dry reds.  A few dry whites) were average t0 mediocre to our taste and overpriced.  You want $20+ for a bottle of wine it needs to be impressive.  There was not one that we liked.  Odd flavor profiles that just didn’t grab us.  As always with wine your mileage may vary.

We did take a quick jaunt into Geneva on the Lake.  Neither of us have ever been there.  For folks in WNY think the Canadian side of the Falls on a smaller scale with a smaller budget.  But it’s clear that GOTL (saw this abbreviation everywhere) knows who and what they are and are proud of it.  At first glance there’s just a sense of sincerity to the sensibility that appeals to me.  Looking forward to spending some more time there.

So day one wasn’t really impressive.  Let’s wait and see what the next couple days give us.

Travels of the Cursed

Oh. My. God.

In my last post I noted my long standing series of travel “adventures”.  Well the biggest trip of my life is coming up (going to Germany) and it seems that the travel gremlins have decided to get a head start on it all.

I am flying out of Pittsburgh so I need to factor a 3 hour trip into my plans plus the recommended arrival time is 3 hours in advance of your flight for international travel.  So we had worked out a system where I would drive to my in-laws who live near Greater Pitt and leave my car there.  They would drop me off and pick me up.  Simple.  Lovely.

Not gonna happen.

On my way into work this morning the alternator light comes on.  Badwordsbadwordsbadwords.  I get to the office, jump out and take care of what absolutely HAS to be done there.  Jump back in the car and it fires up (Thank you Lord) and I head down to my favorite garage.  Explain that it’s kind of vital that this car runs for the next 24 hours and then go out for a bite of lunch.  Ended up having lunch with The Kid so that was cool.  Did some last minute shopping and the phone rings.  My mechanic wants to show me something, can I come right back while the car is on the lift?

This isn’t going to be good.

And it wasn’t.  Alternator?  Dead.  Can’t get a replacement part ($300+ for the part alone) till mid-day TOMORROW.  Badwordsbadwordsbadwords.  But take a look at your left rear wheel.  Umm, is it supposed to hang at that angle?  That would be…no.  The rear subframe has broken right where the suspension is attached to the car.  If the last little piece of metal lets go the wheel could basically fall off.  Like at 65 MPH on I-79 tomorrow.

So this car is NOT going to Pittsburgh.  This car may in fact be DOA.  But that’s another problem for another day.  I still have to get to Pittsburgh.  Talked it over with my Lady Wife and we decide to rent a car.  One way to Pittsburgh.  If we can.

Went to our local Enterprise and was told they have exactly one car that fits the bill.  One.  And it’s this one:

2013 Chevrolet Camaro

A car that screams “This guy needs a ticket!”

Yeah.  The last guy who rented this car (the folks at Enterprise tell me) got a ticket in it.  I’m leaving early and setting the cruise control to 63 MPH.


People keep telling me not to worry.

You people don’t know who you’re dealing with.



Travelling in a Craxy, Mized Up World

So here’s the first thing you need to know about traveling with me.

You don’t want to travel with me.

Seriously.  You don’t want to travel with me.  At least when I’m travelling to church functions.  Why?  Because….adventures happen.

I am in St. Louis MO for the next couple days for meetings to set up the next three years of work for the Standing Commission on Ministry Development.  I’ve served on this SC for the last three years.   Good people and some interesting work to be done.

But the adventure began virtually immediately.  As I pulled into a parking slot at Tom Ridge Field in Erie I saw a plane flying perfectly level just a couple hundred feet off the ground.  Clearly NOT landing or taking off, just doing a flyby.  That struck me as passing strange.  I’ve never seen anything like that before when I’ve flown.  I shrugged it off and made my way inside and through security.  As I settled in to wait for my flight time the announcement came over the PA that my flight had been diverted to Buffalo because of high winds in Erie.  Seems that plane I’d seen on my way in had been mine.  They were going to re-fuel in Buffalo and then try to come back.  Since that would mess up connecting flights everyone on the flight needed to go back out to the Delta desk and re-book.  (FYI – all the folks at Delta throughout the day were wonderful.  My thanks to them all)   We all line up and everyone waited with great patience.  We were offered the chance to call the toll free Delta number and do the re-booking.  I decided to hedge my bets and stayed in line WHILE I called Delta (clever, right?).  Got through, decided to stay with my flight out of Erie but pushed back my connecting flight in Detroit.  Quick and easy.  With that I left the line and went over to a kiosk to get my new boarding passes feeling very much the veteran traveler in control of his destiny.  Literally as I set my bags down at the kiosk Delta announced that the original flight was not going to be able to land due to the wind and the flight was cancelled.


The guy who had been in line behind me was very gracious and let me back into my previous slot.  We were nearly at the front of the line at that point so I waited my turn and spoke with the agent.  Only to be told that there were no available seats left on any flight out of Erie that day.  NONE.  Choices?  Come back tomorrow or get a flight out of a different airport.  Choosing to fly out of Pittsburgh the agent scheduled my flights (through Memphis instead of Detroit) and then worked very hard to fix my return flight too.  Flying back to Erie when my car was in Pittsburgh would have been a problem.  It was noon when she was done and my flight out of Pittsburgh wasn’t till 5:40 so I was golden.

On the road again…

Nothing to report on the drive.  Got to Pittsburgh with hours to spare.  Sat around bored till flight time.  Aaaaaaaaand the plane is late.  Not real late but late enough.  Late enough that my connecting flight is scheduled to begin boarding at 7PM for a 7:40 departure.  And at 7:10PM I’m still in the air.  When we finally land most of the folks in front of me were gracious enough to let me go before they stood up.  Most.  I will refrain from commenting on the lady who not only stood up but wasn’t even ready to leave.  So she spent what seemed like forever fussing with stuff.  Sigh.

Off the plane, meet the agent at the terminal and got my gate.  Which is at the other end of the freaking airport!  So I ran.  OK I ran until my middle aged lungs began to scream.  Then I walked as fast as I could.  The agent at the other end was looking for those of us who were running late so I got on board.  Wasn’t even the last one.

Eventually I got to St. Louis (where the airport is in major re-build mode.  A very tidy disaster area), waited out in the cold for the shuttle and arrived at the hotel.  Usually that’s when the adventures settle down.

Except that the clock in my room has never been reset from Daylight Savings Time.  Which was a bit of a jolt this morning.  Got to breakfast a little early.  Yeah.

And this kind of stuff happens to me ALL THE TIME!

And that’s why rule number one for traveling with me is – Don’t.