wine and cheese and maybe a giraffe please?

No road trip is complete without someone getting car sick.

I am in a minivan with our very dear friends from Australia and Ava has just barfed into a clear zip lock bag. Welcome to the Bay Area, Sean, Ree, and Maddy.

I am holding a bag of barf, for what seems like a really long time. Finally, we park and I am able to locate a trash dispenser in downtown Santa Rosa.

One of those, “You know you are a mom, when…..” moments.

In addition, we accidentally left Mia’s blanket at home. The beloved blanket. A terrible mistake in hindsight. The mistake had me desperately searching for a replacement in wine country gift shops; a search that proved futile. I ended up with a stuffed unicorn which I deemed magical. It was either the unicorn or sheer exhaustion on Mia’s part that she finally slept the second night.

Beyond the first few mishaps, we were ready for adventure! Our first destination at Safari West. It was not our first visit, but this year we wanted to introduce our friends to the magic of going on Safari without traveling all the way to Africa. They only had to travel all the way from Sydney. I booked the noisy rooms on the Antelope Alley, rich in animal experience but incredibly loud with the outspoken flamingos. It’s awesome.

Giraffes and a variety of antelope wandered just a few feet away from our deck. The adults enjoyed long conversations; the girls played out front. I learned a bunch of new Australian sayings.

We were up early the next morning for our safari. It’s best to go before the heat of the day kicks in.  The morning sun warmed us as we drove around the property. One my favorite moments was when I was sitting on top of the truck. One of their friendlier giraffes walked up. He got close, rubbed his neck up and down my arm, and wrapped his head around my back. Ava got the full giraffe experience as well. Her tiny hand reached out to touch his neck and head. She was thrilled. For those sitting down in the truck, all they saw was a huge giraffe butt.



The ostriches were friendly again and pecked at the worn metal on the truck, batting their long eyelashes at the boys. It’s quite a sight to see an ostrich flirting. How can you not love the baby zebras, their manes fluffy and new. Squirrels fat on rhino hay. Cows with horns so big, they looked liked they belonged to a different larger animal. It was a really full safari experience, we saw all the animals who hid from us last time. Our tour was out for almost three hours before turning back to the compound.

The girls discovered their own up close giraffe experience. Pulling stray hay from the ground, they busied themselves making friends with our tall neighbors.

Finally, our family photo on the trucks.

We were satisfyingly tired from both the safari and the boisterous chatter of the our flamingo friends, so over the hill we traveled to Calistoga. A one lane road winding through the lush green hills dividing Sonoma and Napa valleys. Our destination?  Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. A simple hotel known for its’ therapeutic mineral pools. A cool one, warm one, and extra large hot one. Fed from the earth, they are instantly relaxing for both kids and adults. Mia was thorough with her  sunscreen.

Some of our other adventures included wine tasting. One of the memorable ones was tasting Kale Wines at the Meadowood Resort. The adults were seated with our gracious host. Bottles of wine and trays of fancy snacks were spread beautifully across the white linen tablecloth. Did I mention, I love cheese?

The kids were seated at their own linen covered table and given their own personal waiter. The restaurant was virtually empty; it was after the lunch rush but before dinner. The kids happily ordered off the menu; ice cream, cookies, and lemonade. They giggled and told secrets. They stacked piles of wine corks.

Another unforgettable place was JCB lounge on the Raymond Vineyard property. It’s fancy and requires an invitation. We were taken through the winery and back to some private cottages surrounding an empty pool. My first impression was a stuffed leopard greeting me as I stepped through the sliding glass doors into the tasting room. I petted him gently on the head. As my eyes moved around the room, there were more interesting things. A gold couch. A gold pig. A beaded headdress that everyone wanted to try on.  A long table adorned with gold; carefully set with baccarat crystal glasses. This is not your usual wine tasting. They offered a wine tasting experience at with a music accompaniment. Will a song change how a wine tastes?

The first pairing was a Sparkling Rosé. Our host played”Lights’ from Elle Goulding.  It’s lovely sparkling wine, but I am unmoved by the musical choice. I just enjoyed the bubbles. There is quite a bit of conversation around the table about whether we think the music changed how the the wine tasted. She then played the Turkish March (Mozart) then finally “Kiss” (Prince). I’m still not convinced. I think it’s more likely my palate developed with each sip, but still an interesting experience! We tested the theory out again when we returned home. A humorous experience with an exceptional bottle of wine around the fire pit, which really didn’t need any musical accompaniment at all.

Meanwhile, the girls were watching a show on a 100 inch television and lounging on the ornate couches. They looked so natural in this environment, it worried me just a bit.

Later, we all tried on the beaded headpiece. It was the only thing not for sale in the room. I can understand why, it’s pretty cool. Everyone should have one.


Raymond vineyards was a beautiful piece of property. We hiked their nature trail, an educational walk on sustainable grape growing. We were greeted by noisy goats and chickens along the way. We discovered a mysterious table of bull horns on display, which Mia thought belonged on her chin. We ducked under large oversized sun flowers dipped low in the late afternoon sun. We found an ornate dog kennel filled with painted portraits of bull dogs wearing 18th century costumes, and one cat dressed like Betsy Ross. A white peacock strutted nearby. Maddy managed to snag the three white fluffy feathers left on the ground. The girl still have them in their rooms.

The whole experience was a bit like dropping down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

We ended our visit in the portrait garden. Frames of every size were swinging softly in the breeze. We each selected a colorful frame.

I situated my tripod, set the timer, and ran into the photo.

My camera captured a moment in time, a moment of friends laughing and having fun.

We had other adventures as well. We shopped in San Francisco and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of french cuisine at Cafe Claude’s. We drove to the ocean, ate seafood at Sam’s, stuck our toes in sand, and stood in the Pacific ocean. Late nights around the fire pit in the backyard. S’mores. We had some exciting driving experiences with our friends who were used to driving on the “wrong side” of the road! 😉

Much valued time with our Australian neighbors. I’m a little sad that we aren’t actually neighbors, but we’ll pretend to be via Skype.

A memorable trip, but something is missing.

I’m still in search of a fabulous gold beaded headdress.

I really need it, so if you stumble across one, let me know.

There’s a disco somewhere waiting for me.



2 thoughts on “wine and cheese and maybe a giraffe please?

  1. I wish we were back on our adventure! We had the most awesome time and cant thank you enough for showing us more of beautiful California. What a great 2014 trip lots of laughs and good times, looking back at the photos reminds us how lucky we are to have you as our friends. We miss you our American neighbours and are thankful for skype!! Love your Aussie mates xxx

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