#TravelTuesdays – A Flytastic Weekend in Napa

Since my San Fran blog post was getting out of hand long, and because Napa is a completely different experience than San Francisco, I decided to give it its own post. Buckle up winos!

Saturday, April 11th

We left for Napa at about 7:00 am on Saturday. It was my little Ana’s birthday, and we had booked a biking tour through Napa wineries, and we had to be there by 9:30 am. The drive from San Francisco to Napa is about an hour and a half, and we needed to fit in a breakfast for the drinking ahead. We stopped at a random breakfast spot that was pretty bad, and I found hair in my food, so that was that… No biggie, on to an awesome day of wine tasting! We had booked our biking experience with Napa Valley Bike Tours, because Ana had been “dreaming” about biking around vineyards. I wasn’t too fond of the idea to begin with, because I figured being on a party bus would be a more fun experience, and I was right. We had already biked a long trek the day before, and when you’re not used to the biking seats, your butt hurts A LOT. Putting it on another bike the very next day does not help. The ONLY reason I agreed to do this was because I had read the reviews and they said that if for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable with the biking experience, they’d send a van to drive you around instead. I knew in my heart I’d end up in that van, and I made my peace with it. The biking from the Napa Valley Bike Tours to the first winery – Foley Johnson – was about 7 miles I believe. I BARELY made it. I was in so much pain, it took everything in me not to stop in the middle of the road and call the van. As soon as we arrived and parked our bikes, I let our tour guide Stephanie know that I’d be needing the van for the rest of the trek. She said no problem and called it over. We had our first tasting, which was great, and as the group headed out on the bike, I climbed on the van and quickly made friends with the driver, a darling lady named Carol. I witnessed people falling off their bikes and instantly rejoiced in my decision. The next winery was Rutherford, which I LOVED, and that’s where the Bike Tour company served us a nice picnic style lunch. Afterwards, we went to a third winery called ZD Wines. Nothing too memorable from there other than the beautiful variety of flowers. By the end of the tour, another 5 people had joined Carol and I on the van, usually after a fall. Once the tour ended, we headed to our hotel to shower and change, as we had dinner reservations to honor the birthday girl. Per Trip Advisor recommendations, I booked our dinner at Celadon, in downtown Napa. We drove over and had a great dinner. We tried to keep the party going for Ana, but we were all exhausted, her most of all, so we just called it a night and went back to the hotel, especially because we had another extremely early morning coming on Sunday.


Sunday, April 12th – 

4:30am wake-up call. Why? Well, a month before the trip, Ana called me to convince me to go with her on a hot air balloon. You see, I have a pretty bad fear of heights and a moderate case of vertigo, but I usually like to challenge both by flying/going to tall buildings/riding roller coasters, etc. The one thing that never made it on my bucket list was a hot air balloon. I really didn’t find the experience appealing and I thought I’d just be freaking out the entire time. But… I also thought ‘if I’m going all this way to have this great trip, I want to really experience it all.’ So I said yes, and we booked the balloon with Balloons Above the Valley. A few of the people on the bike tour with us had done them that morning and highly recommended them. That appeased my anxiety just a bit. Anyway, back to 4:30 am. We’re up and getting dressed because we had to be at the meet-up hotel no later than 6:00 am. They had coffee and pastries for our pre-flight fill. We were assigned groups and climbed on some vans to head out to the fields where the balloons were being inflated as we were arriving. It’s a crazy experience to see the baskets and the indescribably large balloon “sacks” as they’re expanding and shooting upwards with the short bursts of fire. We were on the last balloon to go up. It was 6:30ish when we were about to board, so I FaceTimed my mom (who was 3 hours ahead on Eastern Time) in case I died. Spoiler alert: I did not. Our flight captain was a veteran in the trade with 25+ years of experience flying hot air balloons. Cool. We climbed into the baskets (quite hard to do) and they don’t tell you how crammed it feels in there when the whole group is in. You have very little space, and the basket is divided in sections that fit 2-4 people. The “magic” of the lift-off is unreal. I was scared, but I felt my fear fading into awe as we rose practically with the sun and saw the most magical sight of sunrise + fog + wineries and beautiful homes as far as the eye could see. The ride was no longer than 30 minutes long, and once I was up there I was enjoying the view, taking pictures, and basking in the moment. Our ride was very fun and calm, and then came the moment to coordinate the landing. You see, you can’t really predict where you will land because it depends on the wind, but these seasoned captains have some idea of a radius where they will make landfall. The captain warned us all to squat a little bit as we were approaching ground so that the hit wouldn’t hurt our knees, and next thing we knew, a eucalyptus field was upon us (or were we upon it? I don’t know). The smell was great, but the morning moisture in that climate was definitely not welcome, brrr. Anyway, good landing as far as I can tell in my limited 1/1 experience. We survived! YAY! After the flight, the vans took us back to the meet-up hotel where they offered a brunch for an additional fee, but we had other plans so we left – but not before being suckers and falling for the $20 pictures they offered. I ALWAYS want the damn pictures. We had decided to go to four more wineries on Sunday before heading back to SF: Domain Chandon, Chappellet and whatever else was around. Domain was fine, I’m not big on champagne (or sparkling wine). Chappellet was the one we had to make a reservation for and Oh. My. Lord. What an amazing experience, from beginning to end. First, the drive. Chappellet is located on a hill in Saint Helena, and the journey up is straight out of a movie. The mountains in the distance, the fields, the vineyards in our view… it was magical. We were playing fun California-related tracks, singing along, taking it all in. We made it to the winery right on time for our reservation, and the place is ridiculously gorgeous/awesome. You’re surrounded by barrels at all times and it just feels like the most Napa place ever. The wines were so good, we all subscribed to their wine club and bought a crate to get shipped back home. We were sat with two ladies from Napa who really know their wines, and they recommended we go to lunch at Tra Vigne to have their mozzarella appetizer, and then make our way to Turnbull and Mumm wineries. So we did! Tra Vigne was DELICIOUS, Turnbull was a stunning picture location with great wines, and Mumm had some refreshing and yummy options. I wasn’t drinking too much because I was the designated driver, but that was ok. I really enjoy driving, and I left this trip discovering my dream job was Uber driver in Napa. As Mumm was getting ready to close, it was time for us to head back to San Fran, which we were so not ready to do. Napa was an incredible experience, took us out of our comfort zone and provided us wine 9-5 every day. What’s not to love?! But the drive back to SF was beautiful too, and getting to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge has no match. Thanks for everything Napa!

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