Will Hess

Joined July 2017Living in: Wisconsin, United States
  • Day4

    Market and The Restaurant at Meadowood

    March 26 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 54 °F

    Last day here in the Valley, unfortunately. We decided to have a leisurely morning, minus the 7am class of HIIT that we had signed up for... One of us made it and the other hung out in the hotel room. I'll let you guess who did what.

    Once the hot springs were open (at least we think they were open -- no one stopped us, though we were the only ones there) we elected to burn an hour soaking it in and willing the aches in our muscles to subside.

    Eventually, we got around to getting dressed and drive back down to Yountville to visit the local Market, pick up a souvenir for Caty, have lunch, and generally walk around and absorb some sun rays.

    Stomachs full, we went back to the hotel room for our final holiday nap, before heading out to one last tasting that we had found last minute -- Reverie II.

    The lack of a tasting fee was a perk, and it ended up being another private, low-key deal. The host's pup, Pedals, knew the entire route and guided us from stop to stop on the property. She was the star of the event for sure. The wine was pretty good, but I can say definitively now that we are done tasting that Barnett's takes top marks, though I'm excluding Schaumburg's as I file Champagne into a different category

    We lounged around and watched some bad TV (Gray's Anatomy and Chopped) until it was time for the finale of the vacation -- dinner reservations at the Three-Michelin-Starred Restaurant at Meadowood. Laura had booked a multi-course meal seated at the cocktail bar, so we got to experience the best of food and drink. Our bartender was highly knowledgeable, attentive, and friendly, which made the experience all the more enjoyable. The signature libation I asked him to make, simply asking "for something with Mezcal" was pure ambrosia.

    Dinner included some equally amazing stuff -- incredible Guegères to start off, tiny cabbage wraps, sole, duck, and then an almond custard with a chocolate concoction that defies explanation for dessert. We finished in front of a fireplace in the lounge, stopping Port/Amaro until it was time to call the the evening, and the vacation, a wrap.

    So long, Napa Valley! It's been wonderful.
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  • Day3

    More Hikes and Tastings

    March 25 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 45 °F

    After a light breakfast and coffee, we started off the day with another hike in a nearby state park so we could see the redwoods. We walked for a solid 45 minutes before encountering a crossing point that was effectively washed out by the high waters. We spent a solid 5 minutes evaluating our chances of safely hopping across the rocks before writing it off as a potential vacation-ender. Still, the hike was still great, and we made friends with a little lizard that surprised Laura on the trail.

    Hungry again, we stopped in town on the way back to the hotel for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. We had an 11am fitness class that kicked our butt -- pretty sure I won't be able to lift my arms tomorrow.

    Suitably exercised, we showered and left for lunch at Lovina, a cute little place in Calistoga. Then, we headed to our tasting reservation at Barnett's Vineyard. This time it was Laura's turn to nap through a beautiful drive. We passed on renting Benz, which was too bad because the vineyard is 20 minutes up a winding climb that would have been pretty sweet. Still, it was fun even with the rental. We were a bit early, which worked in our benefit as it led to a pleasant surprise to find that we'd be enjoying a private tasting.

    It was low-key, and a good comparison point to the larger operations that we had seen thus far. It was a cloudy day, so we didn't quite get to experience the stunning vista of looking down into the valley, but the clouds did abate just enough for a short time to take it in and snap some photos. The icing on the cake was that the wines were pretty darn good, definitely the best non-bubbles that we've had on the trip. The guide was a perfect host, answering our many questions, and giving us recommendations of other stuff to try and see while we're in the valley.

    We took him up on one of the recommendations, stopping at Tank, which was a quirky prohibition-style operation running out of an old gas station. The wine was fairly good, but we didn't love the guy serving us / spinning his sales pitch.

    That was a good amount of wine, so it was nap time before dinner. We did elect to grab the cool car for the drive down to the restaurant in Yountville, where we destroyed some yummy pizzas. Quite a full day, with an early fitness class on the agenda in the morning, so we collapsed into bed and slept like rocks.
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  • Day2

    Mountains, Caves, Cars, and Gondolas

    March 24 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 54 °F

    Woke up at 5:30am local time, and decided that was much too early, so we rolled over and slept another hour. We had a light breakfast delivered to the room, and then Laura headed to a pilates class at the resort. I drank another cup of coffee and then went to the gym to burn off yesterday's calories.

    We followed our workout with another one, hiking up the Oat Hill Mine trail. We saw some nice doggies on the way up and back down, which made us happy. Suitably tired, we had a quick lunch at the resort bar -- shared crab cakes, a seared yellowfin tuna burger for Laura, and Sole tacos for me.

    The resort has a pretty sweet perk -- three Mercedes-Benz that are free to rent for 4 hours. It was a nice sunny day, so we snagged the convertible and zoomed around.

    Next on the agenda was the Schramsberg champagne/cave-cellar tour, which might turn out to be the highlight of the trip. The tour itself was excellent -- the guide was knowledgeable, and the Schramsberg estate history and photos of bottles at presidential events were interesting. The cave cellars were a sight to behold -- thousands upon thousands of bottles stacked and held together by their own weight. The guide talked us through the riddling process (rotating bottles to get settlement into the neck of the bottle so it can be removed) before leading us to the tasting session -- the samples were all hits.

    We followed that tour with another, riding the Gondola up to Sterling Vineyards. The drive in to the estate and the ride up we're pretty great. The wines, pretty mediocre.

    Laura and I had a good time chuckling at the array of personalities on the tours, including a girl who remarked that the champagne smelled like gym socks (the tour guide graciously remarked that all palates are different and he got notes of fruit), a group of women who took at least 30 selfies in 15 seconds, and another group of middle-aged women drunkenly recounting their sorority days. We were very thankful we didn't have to ride back down in the same gondola with the last group.
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  • Day1

    Arrival in Napa Valley

    March 23 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 54 °F

    Up bright and early, with minimal grumpiness. Left the hotel immediately to head to the park and ride to drop the car and jump on the train. Naturally, the blue line trains were stopped, so we waited until the CTA said it would be quite a while before they resumed and we gave up and called an Uber.

    Still made it to the airport with plenty of time for coffee and a quick bite. The flight was uneventful -- Laura schnoozed, and I tried but failed. We landed in SFO, grabbed a car, and started the drive north to Calistoga. We switched to have Laura drive after we got out of the city -- I managed to schnooze through a beautiful drive, I'm told.

    Got lucky that we were able to check in early, so we dropped our gear, took a quick power nap, showered, and then hopped on the bike to head to a drop in wine tasting at Chateau Montelena. We walked around the gardens, admiring the swans and ducks while we waited for our turn to head into wine room. The first Sauvignon Blanc was bright, tart, and delicious. The second Chardonnay was good, not my favorite style, but one of Laura's. A Pinot Noir followed that was a bit meh, but the showcase 2006 Cabernet was phenomenal. It was a choice between sweet and savory for the final wine. We elected to have the opposite of each other so we could share and try both. The sweet one was bleh, IMO, and the savory one meh. Still, it was good overall.

    Went to Goose & Gander for dinner one town over, where we shared a salad and a dry aged steak that was perfect after a day of lighter fare.

    Off to bed from there -- both wiped after a long day.
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  • Day0

    Night in Chicago

    March 22 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 39 °F

    Trip kicked off with a scramble to get out of Madison before the traffic got too bad. Mira will be staying with her grandparents, and she watched us pack up and load the car worriedly.

    Though we stepped out of work early, we had to make a pit stop (a wallet was left at work -- for once it wasn't mine) we weren't quite successful and hit slow-going traffic pretty immediately. We realized that making our 7pm dinner reservations in Chicago wasnt realistic, cancelled them, and settled in for the drive (meaning the girls napped).

    3.5 hours later, we pulled up to the hotel that Caty and her dad would be staying at and handed her off. Hope she has a great time!

    While Laura performed the handoff, I parked the car and hauled our luggage to the Chicago Athletic Association and rejoined Laura. Unfortunately, her license was needed to check in. Which was in her wallet. In the car. Leaving her wallet behind might be the theme of the trip.

    We had dinner (and cocktails) at the Cherry room in the hotel, as we didn't feel like going too crazy given that we'd need to head to the airport at 4:30 the next morning...
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  • Day4


    October 27, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 72 °F

    Last day! We made a beeline to Soarin' the main ride for which we didn't have a FastPass. I had never been on it before, and it was pretty darn cool - a hit for the whole group.

    Caty loved Mission: SPACE, though our group elected to do the more mild version that didn't involve a centrifuge. We designed our own concept car before hopping on the Test Track and speeding around. Our sports car design didn't have much in terms of efficiency, but it made up for it with raw power. Last, we rode spaceship earth in the "giant golf ball".

    Spent some time in the Innovention center so Caty could get her science on. They had a pretty cool color exhibit. The presentation was hokey, but the interactive paintbrush part was pretty interesting.

    It's food and wine festival at Epcot right now, which seemed fantastic, but drew a huge local crowd that made lines off-puttingly long. I did manage to get a flight of craft beers, the best of which was a chocolate stout.

    We opted to push Caty around in a stroller for the day, and we made the international loop before calling it and heading back to the apartment for a pre-dinner nap.
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  • Day3

    Animal Kingdom

    October 26, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 77 °F

    Another early start, getting to the park right as it opened and hustling over to Pandora from Avatar. The line for the signature attraction was already 150 minutes, so we opted for the visually impressive boat ride instead, which was super cool.

    Our fastpass selection was less efficient than it was in Magic kingdom, so had to bounce back and forth between the different areas to hit them.

    Catys found her favorite ride of the whole trip -- Expedition Everest. Had such a good time that she dragged Laura back into the line for a second go immediately after the first, and would have happily done a third had the line not started to grow.

    We had time to kill before our last FastPass, so we went to do the Safari, which was actually a good conservation, to our relief. The animals seems very happy, and they had a fair amount of space to roam. We got to see pretty much everything. Caty liked the baby giraffe, Laura and I liked the rhinos.

    Other stuff we hit before calling it a day and going back for a nap and the pool:
    It's tough to be a bug! (I got "stung", and practically jumped out of my seat)
    Kali River Rapids (I was the one who got soaked)
    DINOSAUR (Just a smidge too scary for Caty)
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  • Day2

    Magic Kingdom

    October 25, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 79 °F

    Day one spent at Magic Kingdom. Got an early start, and made it through the gate slightly after the doors opened. Went straight to Space mountain, easily Caty's favorite ride if the day. In fact, she liked it so much that we went back later in the day to ride again. It was faster than all of us remembered!

    Splash mountain closed down due to mechanical issues, so we were refunded a fastpass that we spent on some other ride. Turned out to be a stroke of luck, as splash mountain reopened right when we were in the area, so it was a short wait.

    We had accomplished pretty much everything we wanted by 2pm, and Caty was running out of steam (she passed out while I was carrying her back to the parking lot), so we called it a day and headed back to our apartment. Aftera quick nap we went to the pool to soak up the sun and have a much needed cocktail.

    Cooked in the apartment, and called it a night early -- another big day tomorrow.
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  • Day1

    Flying down to Orlando

    October 24, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    Met my mom halfway to hand off the pup this past weekend. She'll be living it up with her, Ryan, and (most importantly) her playmate Posey while we're out of town.

    The trip didn't get off to a great start. Work was a bit of a scramble trying to wrap up many, many loose ends, which was aleviated slightly by our first flight being delayed. We got a little cocky with how closely we timed our airport arrival, and a sanfu with semi-linked tickets and restrictions around check-in for a minor resulted with us nearly missing our flight.

    A crying nine year old does wonders to motivate airline employees though, so rules were bent to get us through security and hold the plane until we could get on. Two flights later, and touchdown in Orlando!
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  • Day3

    Full Day of Fish

    September 7, 2018 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 61 °F

    After watching the sun rise with a pot of coffee, we are breakfast and bundled up for the fridged ride over to the prime fishing spots. We did okay in the morning, catching enough for shore lunch, but watched some other boats haul in more fish which got our competitive spirit going to land lots and land big in the afternoon.

    Shore lunch was divine, with a delicious chowder that accompanied the fresh fried walleye. Mr. Bear smelled the cooking oil and paid us a visit, and posed for a picture (though we were careful to keep our distance).

    We killed it in the afternoon -- I don't think we caught a walleye smaller than 20", and Dad landed some large Pike.
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