Oregon – Montana: leaving all behind

From Portland our trip took turn to the East. We traveled three days before we reached the gates of Yellowstone National Park. It was, however, very close that we didn’t arrive to our final destination, Gardiner, on time.

There are basically two ways to drive to Gardiner, Montana from Portland, Oregon. One can drive via south, highway 84 through Boise, or one can drive via north, highway 90 through Spokane, as we did.

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Portland, Oregon: Independence, from whom?

Finally we got to visit Portland, the city we had heard so much of. It greeted us with 12 bridges of varying sizes, designs and usages crossing over the Willamette River. We had a guided tour to Portland’s coolest sites by locals.

My husbands’ cousins took us to a lovely area surrounding the Mississippi avenue with numerous chick shops and restaurants. After lunch in ‘Por qué no?’, a mexican restaurant we headed downtown.

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Berkeley – Portland: the hands that destroyed America

An important part of any road trip is to have a good playlist. In our family of four, everyone gets to pick their favorite songs to add to the list. Our playlist reveals songs ranging from Johnny Cash to Sia, from Vygotski to Pulp fiction sound track, from Verneri Pohjola to Fröbelin Palikat. Many more will be added as the road gets longer behind us.

Our first legi was to get from Berkeley to Portland.

The first day we drove to Eureka, where we spent the night. We stopped for a lunch in a cute little restaurant in Mendocino named Flow after which we drove to see the glass beach in Fort Bragg. Smooth glass pieces of different colors where washed at the shores. How beautiful can waste be! There was something very ambiguous about experiencing this site.

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The art of wine tasting

As a researcher, my personal experience in tasting wines has been somewhat high jacked by the studies I have read about wine tasting. Evaluating wines is a practice done by professionals, who inform us, amateurs, about the quality of the variety of wines available in the markets.

There are usually two sides in wine tasting – that of the professional evaluator and that of the layman consumer – that somehow, peculiarly, could not be experientially more far away from each other.

For the regular consumer, the main thing is to consume the wine. And here, I use the term consumption in as neutral way as one possibly can: it may be that wine is drunk with different purposes in mind but no matter what the aim is, eventually the wine gets drunk. The quality of wine gets evaluated through the practices of consumption.

For the expert evaluator, the main thing is to spit the wine. There is only one purpose in mind: to be able to perform professional assessment of variety of wines and rate them according to appropriate measures. Here, eventually, the quality of wine gets evaluated through the practice of wine tasting.

So how do 94 points, four stars, or 12 dollars inform the regular consumer? They inform that the wine is worth 94 points, four stars, or 12 dollars, but say nothing about how the wine tastes on a rainy day spent with a good novel, at a dinner party with bunch of friends, in a restaurant accompanying a lunch salad, or in a funeral filled with emotions hard to describe. The practice of evaluating wine as an expert is very far away from the practice of evaluating wine as a layman, or a woman.

To me this does not make any sense. When the expert assesses the shades of the colour, the type of the grape, the time the wine spent in a barrel, and the nuances of the smell and taste, I assess how wine looks in the glass it is poured into, how the wine fits the atmosphere and my feelings in the moment, what my co drinkers think about the wine, the headache or the lack of it the next morning.

We had the pleasure to do some wine tasting while celebrating my husband’s birthday. And this tasting was by far the best I have ever experienced. It made me also re think how we assess the quality of wines.

We spend a night at a lovely bed & breakfast in northern Sonoma. The reason I chose Kelley & Young Wine Garden Inn was because it was one of the few places which had wine tasting and  provided accommodation. Mostly tasting rooms, vineyards, and accommodation are separate places in Sonoma and Napa valleys. I learned that visiting winery does not mean that one gets to visit actual vineyards; it may be that a winery makes wine but does not produce grapes, it buys them. Apparently buying grapes is a common practice for wine makers.

I must admit that it had not even occurred to me that the people who produce grapes don’t make wine, or the other way around.

I learned all this and much more during our tasting at Kelley & Young. The tasting included six wines with six small finger food plates. We did the tasting with two other couples. Our host of the night was lovely Madeline, who not only knew about wines and their production but was also an amazing cook. She toured us around a two-hour, lovely tasting session after which I felt that I knew so much more about not only wine production but also about the life of a wine maker.

What was unique about this tasting was that Madeline made us feel special; she did not rise above as an expert telling what the wine should taste like. She described why she liked the wines, what was the process of wine making like, what kind of blends and combinations of grapes were used and why in that particular way, where did the grapes come from, and what was the history of that particular wine and the name that the wine was carrying.

When someone gives you so much embodied and personified information, it is very hard to assess wine based on the mere qualities invented by the experts.

The Kelley & Young Garden Inn B&B was lovely, and the three course breakfast the next day, cooked by Madeline and served to our table was delicious. Even though the location was somewhat far north from the central Sonoma valley, it was definitely worth a visit.

On the next day we had a tour at Benziger’s biodynamic vineyards. The air was fresh, and the vineyards beautiful. We got to know much about the Benziger family and their story of wine making. The tastings were more traditional, and after our wine tasting with Madeline, it was a rather typical wine tasting experience with description of the qualities that we should be tasting in the wines. The cave tasting room, where our tour took us was beautiful, though there was so little wine in the glasses that I could not turn the wine properly around in my mouth.

The experience we had at Kelley & Young wine tasting changed the way I have started to evaluate and relate to wines. For me, now, the art of wine tasting is all about people who make the wine, places where the wine is grown, and stories about how the wine is made and named.

Exploring California, Disneyland

I’m holding a two-hundred-dollar ticket in my hand, which says: “the happiest place on earth”. In the background, I hear how a TV reporter explains about an armed robbery that happened just a few blocks away from my workplace, announces Donald Trump’s budget plan, goes through the ongoing roadworks that have blocked the traffic due to flooding.

Somewhere in my mind, I can still hear the music accompanying the miraculous light parade with all the disney characters and their vehicles you can imagine. The music is getting louder and louder in my head. Ti-tididididiii-didi-diidii-ti-tididididiii-dididi-diii..!

We had a possibility to experience one of the American dreams, Disneyland, and there are a few things I thought I might share about the worlds’ biggest amusement park.

First, practicalities. As a family of four, with kids aged 3 and 6 we needed to buy tickets to everyone, even the youngest child. We did do some research before purchasing the tickets, but ended up buying our two-day tickets online from Disney’s own shop since it seemed the most reliable site, and was the most convenient in terms of working together with the App.

One may occasionally find discounts from big grocery stores such like Costco, or when doing groceries at some of the big shops near Disneyland. The discounts however, seemed to be only a few dollars, and we found it was not worth of loosing a lot of time and energy in hunting them around. Thus, we ended up paying some 750 dollars for two-day access for four people to Disneyland.

We were very lucky and got practical guidance from my husbands cousin (million thanks Melissa!), who is an experienced Disneyland visitor, so we had considered beforehand many questions that, if not thought of, could have made our trip quite challenging.

We stayed at a hotel located perfectly within a walking distance from Disneyland. Since the distances in Disneyland parks are quite huge, and you end up walking several kilometres per day anyway, and we didn’t want to end up spending a lot of time in commuting from the hotel.

We were also advised to familiarize ourselves with the map, the attractions, and entertainment offered by the park(s), and received a thorough list of attractions in each of the ‘lands’. We studied the map and the attractions, and it was very helpful to know beforehand which attractions the kids could go to, which were the most popular ones, and what kind of shows took place, what day, and at what time. Disneyland app was extremely helpful in letting us know about the queue times, fast passes, and locations of restaurants and restrooms.

Second, experiencing the fantasyland. For us, Disneyland turned to be everything it promised. We spend two days in the Disneyland Park, the original part of the land. It was truly impressive to experience attractions made with such an effort. The village was picturesque, characters authentic, rides and attractions so fun and exciting.

To be able to hug the Mickey Mouse, ride a rollercoaster with Indiana Jones, go on a boat ride around the world, watch the magical electrical parade with all the characters you can imagine, or fly in the hyperspace mountain of the Star Wars was breathtaking, even for an adult.

Our oldest son walked basically whole days from morning ’till evening. For the younger one, we had a stroller. The six-year-old could basically enter all the attractions, which, despite their rough rides were extremely safe. There were also plenty of rides that a three-year-old could take – maybe even more that he could digest!

Our weekend trip ended with seeing amazing fireworks on the final night.

If I would characterise Disneyland and my experience with one sentence, I would say: the moment you think you’ve seen it all, comes another slide, another song, another firework.