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Monthly Archives: May 2012

My sister’s text said it all: “Memorial Day 2012: Mammoth, men, mountains.” Although we didn’t make it up to Mammoth (it snowed!! I am just as confused as you are), the rest of the text was entirely accurate.

My sister, her boyfriend, and myself packed up her station wagon and headed to Thousand Oaks on Saturday morning, where we were met by the other five members of the expedition, a 12-seater van, a breakfast of eggs and sausages, and six and a half pounds of raw beef to prepare. After much packing and maneuvering and eating and chopping of onions, we loaded ourselves into the van, and were off.

the party van

Destination: unknown, but we were prepared with a grill, a propane stove, a 12-person tent, and 50 beers. We were limited only by our meagre bladder capacity, and so stopped for lunch as soon as some of our party had to pee. At Los Olivos market we found out that there were campgrounds a mere 12 miles away, and so made that our destination.

After 30 minutes of windy, one-lane mountain road, we located Figueroa Campgrounds, a sheltered outcrop of manzanita and oak trees nestled in the rolling hills of Santa Barbara County. We felt lucky to have found a spot, and erected our 12-person tent and portable hammock. The wine, beer, and scary stories flowed as we feasted on what was supposed to be kabobs, but ended up resembling misshapen meatloaf. Although the night was frigid, we slept well and awoke to prepare for our main activity of Sunday, a hike. 

Although coffee took an hour to prepare over the propane stove, we were fed and caffeinated, and took off in search of a trailhead marked on our map. Our destination ended up being an hour away, but the hike itself was beautiful, and we lunched by (or, some of us, in) a creek.

Sweaty and smellier than before, we made our way back to civilization, to the town of Los Olivos, which, it turns out, is home to about 50 tasting rooms, and proceeded to wine taste.

We began at Qupe, a winery I was excited to see because their Marsanne did quite well at the store last year. We were immediately put off, however, as they saw the size of our group (and most likely, noted our appearance and scent) and tried to shunt us off to the back room. The tasting, however, was lovely, and we proceeded to Alta MariaDragonette Cellars, and finally, Stolpman. We had a great time up until our final destination; pourers were friendly and admired our attempt to combine camping and winetasting, giving us extra pours, offering advice.

Stolpman was an entirely different experience. It was apparent that the gentleman behind the counter was tired of pouring and that we had come way too close to the 5 pm closing time, and his impatience combined with the building rambunctiousness of our group had a disastrous effect. Instead of composing ourselves, completing the tasting and going home, several of our members let their instincts and personal needs take over, and before you knew it, board shorts became short shorts, an already deep v-neck was ripped into something that resembled Andy Samberg’s belly-button baring shirt, and planters became benches. All in all, we exited Los Olivos quickly but triumphantly, and returned to our campsite, pausing quickly to frolick in a field before settling in for our last night.

Bacon-wrapped hotdogs completely redeemed the cook, and we exhausted our stores of scary stories and marshmallows, turning in for one last, and much warmer, night. We packed up and left much faster than anticipated the following morning, and made it back to Los Olivos market for our first encounter with running water since Saturday morning, and a quick breakfast that lasted for several hours and included a couple bottles of champagne. The return trip to Thousand Oaks was not the fast drive of Saturday morning, and we managed to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe at least 20 times. Although I was thankful that we made the trip without any serious incident (there are a few fears of poison oak, and quite a few scrapes and bruises), I already miss the party van, though the scent of campfire lingers on.

I’m not a particularly anxious person, in general. I tend to be even less of one while traveling, because I’ve found that things tend to work out pretty okay. In the past I’ve even been so unconcerned that I didn’t even make arrangements until the night before I was leaving or going somewhere, which lent a very creative mood to the trip, but also meant that you were always in danger of not having a hostel to stay in.

This year, however, not only have I planned my trip start-to-finish (with the exception of my train to Paris), but I have been wracked with anxious pre-travel dreams. A few weeks ago, I dreamt that I had arrived at LAX just in time for my flight, only to realize that I’d left my bag at home, an hours drive away. The dream was so realistic that I woke up in a cold sweat, and started searching for my bag. It took several minutes for my brain to register the fact that I had over a month before my departure date.

Then, more recently, I had another dream, but of a very different nature. This time, I found out that my childhood best friend wasn’t going to be able to come to my goodbye party. This was particularly bizarre because I wasn’t planning on having a goodbye party, but I woke up feeling sad and lonely nevertheless.

In my pseudo-psychological interpretations of these dreams I can only assume that the first means I’m worried that I am unprepared, and the second means I’m worried about missing the people here that I love. While I’m taking the increased anxiety as a sign of maturity, I sincerely hope these dreams will inspire preparation and thoughtful goodbyes, rather than endless worry.

Winetasting is one of my favorite activities. Perhaps this is because I grew up with wine- my father works for a wine distribution company and my childhood was peppered with his tastings and winery visits. Wine is an art, an expression of culture and agriculture, the past and the present, the land and the winemaker.

Two summers ago, my high school best friend and I backpacked through Italy. We did not have a plan, but met in Rome with the vague intention of working our way either north, to Cinque Terre, or south, to the Amalfi Coast. Since Cinque Terre offered more stopping points along the way, we took that route, and only realized that we were in Chianti after a few days in Siena. Since both of us are lovers of vino, we decided that we should make an effort to taste. I emailed my dad, with the hope that he would respond with a list of winemakers who would love to take us on a tour, but was met with the sad response that all of his connections were at the beach, as it was August after all, and really, isn’t that where we should be?

On a whim, I emailed a woman I’d worked for the previous summer, one of the Senior VPs of the company (and also, coincidentally, a Wellesley woman!), and we found this approach far more successful. On our last night in Siena, I got a call with details of what bus to take from Florence, and the promise that he, Tim, the winemaker, would be there to pick us up.

We made our way north to Florence, and then hopped on a local bus. Although the bus was filled with the sort of local color you expect, and stopped every five minutes, the hour-long journey itself was so beautiful, it seemed photoshopped.

The winemaker was indeed there to pick us up, and he was the sort of big-hearted, fatherly American that any travel-weary 21-year old would be thrilled to see. He drove us to the winery, Il Molino di Grace, (which literally means “Windmill of Grace”), regaling us with tales of living in Panzano as a transplant American, the history of the hundreds-year old vines, the Etruscan paths that run through the property.

We finally reached the winery, full of the sort of rustic beauty that you expect in Tuscany, and began our tour, including the barrel and tasting rooms. I’ve always loved barrel rooms, but this one was truly fantastic, long and dark, reminiscent of the history that Tim had told us about.

I’m not sure how many wines we opened that day, but the Sangioveses and Chianti Classicos flowed freely. Tim took us back to the bus stop, where we wandered the tiny village, and wondered what other gems we were missing out on because they were not large enough to have their own hostel, for Greve in Chianti was truly one of the most charming towns I have ever visited.

There are many ways to travel; from the five-star hotel to the inter-city campsite, every person has their own style. While I don’t mind sharing a room with five or six relative strangers, I found out very quickly that the rating and cleanliness of a hostel say very little about the hostel experience.

I won’t begin with the bad stories (not that I have any horror stories- just that I’ll save some of the spicier for later) but rather with my favorite hostel, Ivan Hoe. Hostel Ivan Hoe is located right in the middle of Rome, squirreled away in a typical cobble-stoned alleyway, a few blocks away from the Coliseum, and a two minute walk from the metro stop. The funny thing about this hostel is that it has few of the qualities that comprise a “good” hostel experience; there were a very few, very insecure personal lockers, the beds were almost certainly infested with bed bugs, the breakfast was not free, and there was a five-hour lock-out, from 11 am to 4 pm (the hottest, most miserable part of the day in a Roman summer), every day.

However, for some odd reason, this hostel was the highlight of our trip. Maybe the brightly colored walls made the hostel more homey than the white-wall-and-linoleum sterility that you find elsewhere. Perhaps because of the lockout we were forced to explore (and enjoy) the city more, and because of the tiny, cramped bedrooms, everyone congregated in the kitchen and living room areas, sharing in the preparation and enjoyment of food, because hiding in your room simply wasn’t an option. (Or it certainly was not an enjoyable one)

While I was there, I made friends from all over the globe, discovered that I love cornichons, and learned how to make chicken marsala and use an Italian espresso maker. We wandered the city by night, taking in monuments and statues over wine or gelato, joining the other young people in the Trastevere, and generally, wreaking as much havoc as possible. Although Hostel Ivan Hoe was not sterile, was hardly even trustworthy, it set my standards for the hosteling experience.

Lessons learned: pay attention to ratings when booking your trip, but, more importantly, read the reviews, because amenities account for a minuscule part of the journey.

When your time somewhere is finite, you feel the need to maximize it. So, as I’m planning on leaving for the summer in a few very short weeks, I’ve come to realize that it is time to do everything that I’ve been hypothetically planning since I moved back home last summer. That list includes:

Go camping

Go to the desert

Disneyland (okay, I have been several times but want to go once more!)

Explore different parts of LA

Go to the beach

Reconnect with friends who live outside my little bubble

Shenanigans

Officially unpack

Host a party

So far, this list is looking pretty achievable; I’m scheduled to go camping next weekend in Mammoth, and this weekend I crossed off reconnecting, shenanigans, and exploring different parts of LA.

I suppose we didn’t explore so much as visit one bar in Eagle Rock, a city that walks the line between seedy, hipsterdom and re-gentrification. The festivities began with wine and beer at a friends apartment, which quickly turned into an impromptu ’90’s sing-a-long, progressed to The York, finally concluding with more singing, tacos so hot that only a few of us could finish them, and several of our party almost getting stuck in a tractor. We recapped the evening over brunch at Auntie Em’s, an amazing eatery that specializes in locally-grown, delicious, and incredibly fresh products.

If my summer adventures are anything like these, I have no doubts that it will be an epic journey.