Lighter Than Air: Balloon Adventures

So this is a post that’s been lingering in the drafts folder for a few weeks now—life catches up with you sometimes and you wind up much busier than anticipated. (I think you’ll see why when we get to the bottom ;) )
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It’s a bitterly cold December morning in Napa, California. The sky is still dark as we check out of our hotel, then haul ourselves into a waiting van, stopping twice to pick up others from their hotels. I close my eyes—I think for a second—but when I wake orange smears the far horizon and the world seems a little lighter. And then I see that we’ve stopped, and I see why.

Just above the neighboring vines, a colored dome rears up, looming in the pale sky like a colorful sun. Then another, then another, then another…

Ballooning is a surreal experience. You feel so light and dreamy. We asked our pilot what kind of license you needed to fly a balloon and he replied, “It’s called a lighter-than-air license.” While other balloons soared up and up, we moved forward at the same height, as though we were on some invisible track. The landscape unfolded beneath like a child laying out toys—tiny cars placed with care on tiny silver roads, neat squares of bright pools, the sloping roofs of houses and barns nestled in between rows of plantings.

It was incredibly quiet, just the sound of the creaking basket and the occasional bright whoosh of the blast valve.  Time was lazy, the hour ride seemed to last the whole morning. At one point, I heard my boyfriend ask the pilot how much time we had left in the ride. And then, in my most surreal moment of all, I saw him turn, and drop to one knee.

And OF COURSE, I said yes!!
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David booked our unforgettable ride was through Napa Valley Balloons, which offers both private and group balloon outings. Rides are followed up with a delicious champagne brunch at Domaine Chandon.

Urban Hikes: San Francisco’s Top Date Hikes

IMG_0345David and I have been living in the city for almost five months now, and after five straight days of the hustle-and-bustle daily grind, we start to crave a break from the concrete jungle and (plethora) of city smells. While San Francisco is famous for it’s hilly sidewalk, it’s also got ample green spaces to set your feet down on some real dirt. We’ll start with a list we found of SF’s best hiking spots (for dates), and as we set forth to trek them all, I’ll recount our adventures and share some photos! Stay tuned!

  • Mount Davidson, Sherwood Forest
  • Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks
  • Philosopher’s Way in McLaren Park, Visitacion Valley
  • Presidio Promenade, The Presidio
  • Lands End, Lands End
  • Fort Funston, Lakeshore
  • Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill, Golden Gate Park
  • Batteries to Bluffs, The Presidio
  • Bernal Hill, Bernal Heights
  • Golden Gate Heights Park, Inner Sunset

Friday Fun: Stay in a Gingerbread Hotel

 

The holidays are a busy time for everyone, and while lots of us travel, it isn’t always for fun. So in case you need a sweet break from the festivus fracas, check out Gingerbread BNB. This booking site allows you to take a virtual vacation in the name of a good cause— and here’s the fun bit: these holiday hotels are made out of gingerbread and candy. Choose from one of three confectionary constructions: a super-modern pad, a traditionally rustic cabin, or a retro-style camper, then choose the amount of nights you want to “stay.” The price you pay for those nights, which ranges from US$5 to US$20 a night, is then donated to Robin Hood, the largest poverty-fighting organization in New York City.

The details in the residences are examples of some truly remarkable candy crafsmanship: savor the Swedish fish hanging in the cabin and the mint cookie abstracts adorning the walls of the modern pad. My favorite edible element is the nut-mix chimney in the rustic cabin—a detail I’ve noted for the next time I foray into gingerbread development.

So go ahead, “treat” yourself (and someone in need) with your own little gingerbread getaway.

Photos via http://www.gingerbreadbnb.com.

Yosemite National Parks in Photos

 

Adventures in Glamping: Yosemite National Park

Last Saturday morning, I woke up not the usual sounds of the clanking garbage trucks, honking traffic, and weekend morning rattle of one of the most populous cities in the country, but to the steady rushing of rain on a canvas roof. It took a minute to orient myself in the cozy gray light—then I remembered that we’d traded our city digs for the white and wood of a hillside yurt, just outside of Yosemite National Park.

It was the first year we weren’t traveling for Thanksgiving Day, so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and head to the mountains. We knew it was going to be cold and potentially snowy, so we ruled out a tent and decided to embrace the “glamping” trend by renting one of the yurts at Yosemite Lakes Resort.

For centuries, yurts have been a portable, bent dwelling structure traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia as their homes. More recently, they’ve become one of the hot-ticket abodes to rent for those too weary (or wary) to go tent-camping.

Yosemite Lakes, a division of Thousand Trails, has two yurt villages—a hillside yurt village and a river yurt village. We accidentally drove to the river yurt village first, and though it sounds picturesque, we ultimately decided we’d made the right choice to go for a hillside yurt. The hillside yurts were positioned far off the main road, which meant they were nice and quiet, and had lovely mountain views.

For two nights, we paid $261 for our yurt, and it easily rivaled some hotel rooms we had paid more for. In terms of food prep, it came equipped with a kitchenette (full fridge, stove top, microwave, and full-size coffeemaker), dining set, and a propane grill on the front deck, which meant we could leave our heavy camp stove at home and forgo the charcoal, which can be hard to find this time of year. (For those who want a more rustic experience, it also came with a grated fire pit, for campfire roasts and dutch ovens—and we definitely took advantage of it for s’mores roasting later in the evening!) Our yurt also had a full-size futon and a small TV, a queen-sized bed, and a propane-powered cast-iron stove for heat. Linens were included. It was so cozy to lay in bed with a nicely controlled fire to keep us toasty! Our bathroom was (almost embarrassingly) larger than our bathroom in San Francisco, with a shower, closet space, and shelving for toiletries.

Do note though, that the yurt location is completely off the grid in terms of cell service and Wi-Fi. We loved it—it felt great to completely unplug. In case you do need to check email, there’s Wi-Fi at both the check-in area and the Family Lodge.

In terms of location, ours was one of the most conveniently close campgrounds outside of the park. Evergreen Lodge is closer to Heth-Hetchy Resevoir, which is an extension of Yosemite, but to get to Yosemite Village, you had to take an incredibly long and windy road. Yosemite Lakes was a pretty straight shot (about five miles) to the park gates, and then a spectacular drive down to the Valley.

In truth, we’d ruled out Yosemite Lakes because it looked at first glance like an RV campground. But it kept turning up in searches, so eventually I looked a little harder. It is technically an RV campground, but they also have the yurts as well as cabins for rent. It was too chilly for outdoor activities while we were there, but it had a mini golf course and a pool, and in the family lodge (which also had Wi-Fi) there was a pool table and ping-pong, a robust take-one-leave-one bookshelf (mostly with dishy romance novels and YA fiction), boardgames, and a popcorn machine.

Though this was our first foray into glamping, it definitely had its upsides. It was incredibly convenient not to have to schlepp all our more hardcore gear out of the city (and out of the closet), but still be so close to nature. And while we like to imagine we’re more hardcore than this trend, I can easily see us on another yurt adventure in the not-so-distant future.