Cusco!

Cusco was a beautiful city! Tucked in the mountains with fresh air and blue doors all around. Although our thighs definitely got a work out 🙂 We stayed at the top of a large hill and were definitely out of breath making the hike up while we adjusted to the altitude. Overall though, Cusco was a bit of a mixed bag for us since Dan and I both got pretty ill. We tried to make the best of it, but it’s never fun to be sick while traveling. Luckily our hotel was super comfortable! Cusco’s Hilton Garden Inn was nicer than most Hiltons and such a great price.

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We spent a lot of time just walking around and soaking things in. We did try alpaca, which was delicious and super lean, but avoided the guinea pigs roasted on a stick 😉 Cicciolina was certainly all it was hyped up to be- the menu in the bar area is tapas style, so we were able to try a bunch and loved it all. Marcela Batata was also killer! One day we toured around with a local and ate lunch in Sacred Valley at a woman’s home. The food was simple and delicious but  pretty sure that’s where I picked up the food poisoning… there were guinea pigs running around the dirt floor of the kitchen. Still considered it worth it to see just a tiny slice of life in the area. We also tried some homemade chicha from a road side chicheria, which is beer made out of corn. And of course, you’ve got to love the $10 massages and women holding baby “alpacas” hoping you’ll pay for a picture with them. They are actually lambs. Tricky! I also loved visiting Qorikancha- it was originally an Incan temple that the Spanish turned into a Catholic church.

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So glad we were able to spend several nights in this city. It really helped us adjust to the altitude as we prepared to hike to the Inca trail!

 

 

Welcome to the Jungle

I hate complaining in this blog, but our flight situation was a real nightmare- delays, extra lay overs, missed flights, and a ticket purchase on the last flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado 30 minutes before departure. It’s a miracle we made it, but thank goodness we did.

To kick off our trip, we spent 4 days in the Amazon at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, an amazing eco-lodge on the bank of the Madre de Dios river (which feeds into the Amazon). Your stay includes all your excursions & food, and each couple has a little cabin with a screened in porch and hammocks. They try to be carbon neutral, so there isn’t always power and there definitely isn’t AC. Which meant we were sweaty for 4 days straight. But hey, it made it a more authentic experience, right? Plus, the heat put me right to sleep during nap time. I adored the cabins and wish I had one situated one a lake here in TX for weekend trips. No lock, limited power, no reception/ wi-fi. Our mid-day siestas were so relaxing. The food was also great, especially considering they have to bring everything in by boat. We even had a pisco sour making lesson and a specialty cocktail lit on fire 🙂
The excursions were typically laid out with one in the early morning, one in the late afternoon, and one in the evening after it got dark. We got lucky and had a great, fun, group to tour around with- couples from New Zealand and the UK. We actually ran into the UK couple in Cusco and at Machu Picchu- crazy!
The first night, we went out on a boat to stargaze and look for caymens (they looked like little, white alligators).
We woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning to a little knock on our door, in place of an alarm. Then we took a boat upriver (this is pretty much the beginning of every excursion) and hiked to Sandoval Lake, where we kayaked around and looked at wildlife. Throughout the trip, we saw monkeys, birds of all kinds, scorpions, and turtles. Watching the spider monkeys play in the treetops was definitely a highlight.
That afternoon, we climbed wayyy up to go on a canopy walk. I thought I would be terrified because I don’t do well with heights, but I was surprisingly fine even with Dan critiquing the engineering of the bridges (eek)! Maybe I’m finally growing up and facing my fears.
My favorite morning was spent at their “farm” where we got to see everything that grows in the area and try some of it! Then we leisurely made our way down Gamitana Creek, which was really enjoyable.
During our afternoon boat ride (see a theme here), Dan was videoing a cayman on his go-pro and he jumped up at us!! Definitely jumped big time. We also got to taste some local plants used as medicine- one made our mouth numb and was super odd.
One of the coolest things was a night walk of the grounds. Our guide pointed out tons of different creepy crawlers (like scorpions) and my favorite, a tree frog. We all wore our own headlamps, and Dan kept spotting things our guide didn’t. He has the best eyesight ever. After returning to our cabin, we even had a little visitor in our bathroom in the form of a tarantula- I freaked and made Dan catch him and take him outside. He’s a true hero!

It was such an adventurous and HOT time! Inkaterra was a pretty stellar place to stay to experience the Amazon and this was a great introduction to Peru. From Puerto Maldonado, we were off to Cusco to see just how diverse Peru is!

Peru Plan

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ONE MORE DAY until we leave for Peru. This will be my first time in South America and I can’t wait to experience the food, culture, and beauty. Dan has spent time in Chile and Argentina, but we’ll be doing Peru for the first time together. Here’s our itinerary and I’d love some tips & favorite spots from those who’ve been. Specifically, Cusco things/ tips for hiking the trail. Please message me!

DAY 1: Hop on an overnight flight to Lima
2: Catch an early flight to Puerto Maldonado and a take a boat up the river to an eco lodge
3-4: Stomp around the jungle!
5: Head to Cusco to start adjusting to the altitude
6-7: Explore the Sacred Valley & Cusco
8-11: INCA TRAIL
12: Spend an afternoon in Lima before catching our flight home
I’m seriously freaking out about doing this hike since I’ve never done anything remotely close to it. Maybe I’m being a baby. I’ve heard mixed things about the difficulty level so I guess I’ll just have to experience it for myself. Thank the Lord Dan is incredibly patient and supportive and will be encouraging me the whole way. Nothing to fear 🙂 But keep us in your prayers anyway. My mom so kindly informed me that a tourist recently fell to his death, so thanks for that MOM.
Wish us luck!!
Machu Picchu photo from Travel + Leisure

Tahoe, Tahoe, off to Cali we go

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MAN, Tahoe was good. It’s just amazingly gorgeous out there. I could have stayed forever and definitely wasn’t ready to head back home. What a way to end 4 out of 5 July weekends flying to opposite US coasts.

The trip started off pretty rough- our flight got cancelled 😦 Since there aren’t a ton of flights to Reno, we wouldn’t have gotten there until late the next day, so we finagled ourselves onto a flight to Oakland. Which got super delayed. We ended up leaving Houston at midnight, renting a car in Oakland, and driving over 3 hours to get to Tahoe. By the time we made it, it was 7 AM Texas time. Phew. Luckily, Dan is a saint and drove the whole way while I slept. Or maybe it was self preservation considering I don’t have the best vision in the dark 🙂 ANYWAY on to the actual fun stuff…

Once we arrived, everything was perfect! The whole weekend was super relaxed. Dan’s mom rented a beautiful cabin so we hung around a lot, playing pool, hot tubbing, and eating at the house. We even did Christmas dinner one night since my BIL was deployed over the holidays. So special! And of course, the nieces and nephew were so fun to play around with. Dan’s mom packed a bunch of water guns and they had a blast with them. We also went on a couple hikes, hung out at King’s Beach, and spent some time in Tahoe City eating ice cream and drinking beer at Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company. I so wish we could have stayed longer- silly vacation day limits 😉

While at King’s Beach, we attempted to play inflatable beer pong. Pretty hilarious considering how big the waves were!!

The adults snuck out for beer and ice cream 😀 I loved stopping for a glass of wine on Christy Hill’s patio- perfection.

These are all from our hike up to Stateline Fire Lookout. Supposed to be kid friendly, but they still had to be carried the whole way, ha! But how cute is Ellie in that scarf Rob brought back from Jordan?! I was also in awe of the size of the pine cones in this part of the world. I wanted to pack some in my suit case.

Still feel so lucky I married into such a great family!

Side note- kicking myself for forgetting to bring the nice camera. These iphone pictures don’t do it justice.

Napa for the 4th

We spent the long 4th of July weekend in Napa Valley, and it was just unreal. Wine + beautiful weather + good company can’t be beat. Plus I spent some time each chilly morning on the porch with some coffee and a wine country appropriate book- Eight Hundred Grapes.

We stayed in an adorable Airbnb Dan’s mom found in downtown Napa, walking distance to some restaurants and tasting rooms, so we spent Friday night there. Oenotri  was super- huge housemade salumi selection, a wood burning pizza oven, and a really nice selection of rosés.
Saturday morning, we called in an order at Bouchon Bakery, which ended up being clutch. The line was a mile long, and we happily skipped right to the front to grab our pastries 🙂 Is there any better breakfast than a chocolate croissant?!
Then we were off to Frog’s Leap for our first tasting. The grounds were immaculate- a beautiful house set next to a barn, with tons of fresh produce growing throughout (that you are welcome to pick and eat!). To top it off, they had a large green lawn overlooking the valley. Man.  It wasn’t our favorite wine of the trip, but the setting made the visit more than worth it.
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For lunch, we stopped at Gott’s Roadside, because how can you not? Out of everyone I talked to and anything I read, this was recommended across the board.  It was the cutest place ever and the burgers really hit the spot.
Tasting #2 was at Sterling Vineyards. Definitely one of the most touristy places, but we all agreed that they have the tasting thing down pat. Each tasting is in a different spot, so it was never crowded, and it allowed us to see more of the production side. And that view!! The cable car to the top is a cute little gimmick too.
To wrap up Saturday, we went to Rombauer Vineyards, famous for their Chardonnay.  I felt like we learned a lot about the valley here, and enjoyed an extra bottle (or 2…) sitting in their garden. It was a great visit and we really enjoyed their wines- several can be found at Spec’s here in Texas!
We feasted at Bistro Jeanty that night and I really loved having a good French meal. They even served bone marrow, which was SUCH a treat. We pretty much closed the place we were having such a good time 🙂
Sunday morning, we picked up some more pastries at Alexis Baking Company (the english muffin was shockingly delish) before driving out to Saddleback Cellars for our favorite tasting of the weekend! The setting wasn’t as dramatic as some of the bigger wineries, but we loved how laid back it was, situated in the middle of the vineyard. And seriously, this wine was the best. We all strongly considered joining the wine club, and I still don’t think that’s out of the question.  The founder, Nils Venge, is a bit of a celebrity. He was the first American to receive a 100 point score from wine critic Robert Parker J. for his Cabernet Sauvignon. So ya, he makes some pretty awesome stuff.
After realizing Thomas Keller’s fried chicken stand, Addendum,  was closed (sadly) we scooted over to Hurley’s for a laid back lunch on their patio.
Afterwards, we visited Domaine Carneros, where I felt like I was at a gorgeous estate in France. This is another touristy one, but so fun. Seeing all the bubbles in multiple glasses gave me a little thrill. Apparently they manually drill tiny divots into the bottom of the glasses to make the sparkling wine even more bubbly!
Done with driving, we finished the day on foot walking around Napa. I fell in LOVE with St. Clair Brown Winery. It’s an urban winery surrounded by auto parts shops, but it felt like it could have been a tiny eatery in the middle of a European park. We shared a bottle while hanging out in the garden, surrounded by produce. If I lived in the area, I would be a frequent visitor.
Then we walked around Oxbow Public Market, which was really fun. It’s kind of a hodge podge of cute shops, restaurants, and an actual food market. We had an early dinner at Kitchen Door, which was nice, and headed back to the house for an early night. We watched Bottle Shock before heading to bed 🙂 🙂
Geez, sorry! That was a LOT! Huge thanks to Dan’s rents for treating us (and letting me plan things, haha)- Napa was my No. 1 US spot for a trip before kids. Now that I think about it, was this an incentive trip to get us to start having kids?! Kidding 😉  Now that I’m at least a little bit familiar with the area, I’d love to come back and just visit the smaller wineries, and branch out into Sonoma too.
Napa Valley, you’re a dream.

Fredericksburg Getaway 

Dan’s parent’s recently built a place in Fredericksburg, which is affectionally termed “The Cabin”. We’ve been out several times over the past few months and a few weeks ago, they lent it to us for a weekend friend getaway (THANKS!). It was so refreshing to hang out on the deck, drinking beers, away from the big city. There ended up being 10 of us, but through the miracle of air mattresses, we made it work! I was slightly intimidated to play host to that big of a group, but they are the sweetest and it actually ended up being a breeze. (I did forget to bring the nice camera, so the pictures aren’t stellar!)

Friday night, Dan grilled up some burgers and corn, and we had this lemony salad on the side. After we ate, we lounged around, star gazing and roasting marshmallows for some s’mores. And a short game of Quelf, which is always hilarious.
For Saturday morning breakfast, we cooked bacon breakfast tacos, which are a staple at the Witcher residence. We had to fuel up for a day at the wineries! Texas actually has the 2nd largest wine region outside of Northern California, and over the last few years it’s grown even more! Every time we visit Fredericksburg, it feels like a new winery has opened. Since we had so many people, I tried to stick with places where we could make reservations. The popular spots can get super crowded on nice weekends, so this was helpful.
We started at Pedernales Cellars, mostly for the amazing views! It’s not my favorite wine and on the pricier end, but the setting is beautiful. They have a nice patio to picnic on, also!
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However, we moved on to Kuhlman’s Cellars because it’s quickly becoming a favorite. I love all of their wines and they are reasonably priced (for the area… I splurge a bit when in wine country, compared to my typical $12 Kroger bottles). They were totally booked up by the time I tried to make a reservation (see?! book ahead!) but we were able to grab a couple  bottles and enjoy their deck as we ate lunch. I packed this delicious salad in advance, and it was surprisingly portable and actually perfect picnic food.  I did add chicken (because Dan refuses to eat a meal without meat) and had him grill it up the night before while he was working on the burgers. Everyone loved it, and it was so easy (although there are one million ingredients). All the recipes on her blog are on point.
Next up was Calais Winery, which was definitely the best tasting of the trip, and actually, ever in Fredericksburg. It’s basically a bunker in a field, so don’t come expecting hill country views, but the knowledge passed onto us was thorough and fascinating. It’s owned by a young, French guy who is making his mark on the Texas wine scene by using only Texas grapes with French oak barrels. He was the one leading the tasting, and we asked so many questions that he was happy to answer.
We ended at Lewis Wines, which is another one of the few who only use Texas grapes. We sat out on a patio, surrounded by vines and it was the perfect last stop.
We spent the next few hours playing outside like a bunch of kids. We played corn hole, frisbeer (Dan’s new favorite ever since the UT tailgate), and beer pong may have happened. Then we wrangled everyone up and headed into Fredericksburg for dinner at Fredericksburg Herb Farm.
On Sunday, we drove out to Alamo Springs, which has my absolute favorite burger. The drive is beautiful and I love seeing old German-style homes from when the area was founded.

For previous Fredericksburg trips, see here and here.

Easter Weekend 2016

Per usual, Dan and I were all over the place for the holiday! Luckily, we both had Good Friday off work and headed straight out to Fredericksburg to stay in the cabin with Dan’s immediate family. Got to love a road trip with bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes framing the pavement.

Friday was spent enjoying wine, playing with the kiddos, and listening to music at Luckenbach. We did wine tasting at 2 of the newer Wineries on the 290 block- Kuhlmans (which included a food pairing!) and Barons Creek. Both were excellent. And hanging out at Luckenbach has got to be one of the most relaxing & fun things in Texas- the picker’s circle is always a treat! The last time Dan & I were there, they even let him join in for a song 🙂 After stuffing my face with my absolute favorite burger at Alamo Springs, we ended the night with s’mores, which was just perfect. Even though Dan got marshmallows all up in his beard.

Saturday, we hung out on a boat on Town Lake (Lady Bird Lake?) in Austin with some of my college friends. It started out pretty overcast, but the sun came up and it ended up being a knock out day. Gah, my love for Austin will never fade. Seriously.

Sunday was spent in Waco celebrating Easter with Dan’s extended family- made for a huge crew at church that morning. Lots of food, egg hunting, bluebonnets, and cacarones (AKA lots of confetti stuck in your hair and shirt).