What’s Easy In The Big Easy?

March, 2011

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Note to reader: All pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and many words/phrases are linked to other sites, therefore allowing you an easy way to find more relevant information.

What’s easy in the Big Easy? My wife and I spent three days and nights in New Orleans recently. While there, I couldn’t get out of my mind the words “Big Easy” and how/why it describes New Orleans. So, I went on a search for easy in the Big EasyThis post is meant to be an easy-going semi-pictorial web log of our easy visit to the Big Easy. :-)

What's Easy In The Big Easy? Well, it's easy to get an alcoholic drink. :-)

Why is New Orleans called the Big Easy? This is an euphemism for New Orleans, like the Crescent City, that is attributed to Betty Guillaud, a gossip columnist for the Times Picayune. She coined the euphemism in the ’70s as a term of endearment and an answer to the then I Love New York City hype. Guillaud proclaimed: “If it’s the Big Apple for New York, then New Orleans is the ‘Big Easy,’ where everything is slower, simpler and easy-going.”

The Big Easy offers many balconies for easy viewing of the Big Easy. Here's my lovely wife "easily" celebrating Mardi Gras the day after Fat Tuesday.

It’s easy to walk in the Big Easy, especially if you are near the French Quarter.

It's easy to walk in the French Quarter in the morning.

It’s easy to walk because the streets are too narrow for much traffic.

It's easy to walk in the French Quarter in the afternoon.

It’s easy to walk UNLESS there’s a lot of foot traffic – very common in the evening.

It's NOT as easy to walk in the French Quarter at night! :-)

The streetcar is a nice, convenient and easy way to see the Big Easy.

It's easy to see many of the sights using the St. Charles streetcar.

The Big Easy has lots of good restaurants located in buildings with great architecture and easy to get to. Commander’s Palace, a nice restaurant in the Garden District, is very popular for its food and ambience.

It's easy to visit the premier restaurant, Commander's Place, in the Garden District.

The Big Easy seldom buries its dead! They can’t dig deep enough without “hitting” water and therefore, literally have Cities Of The Dead.

It's easy to find a place to NOT be buried.

Some of the beautiful houses in the Garden District are popular with celebrities.

It's easy to find where celebrities live - for example, this is Sandra Bullock's house.

The Big Easy is cultural and academic!

It's easy to find a major park (Audubon Park) across the street from two major universities (Tulane and Loyola).

Art is everywhere in the Big Easy!

It's easy to find women in the park. :-)

The Big Easy is the “Big Ending” of one of the biggest rivers in the world – The Mississippi. The river literally runs through it!

It's easy to see the big easy Mississippi.

Besides being a major port for ocean-going vessels, it also has big riverboats.

It's easy to find a big boat to float the Mississippi.

The Big Easy isn’t a gamble for a good time, but you can gamble.:-)

It's easy to lose money in the Big Easy! :-)

The Big Easy is a great place to tour.

It's easy to people watch.

The Big Easy is known for it coffee shops that serve chicory coffee and beignets. Cafe du Monde was established in 1862 and is very popular.

It's easy to find good coffee and beignets in the Big Easy.

The Big Easy tends to provide good service to visitors.

It's easy to get good service in Cafe du Monde.

Jackson Square, in which sits the St. Louis Cathedral, is a popular spot for tourists in the Big Easy.

It's easy to look at the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral.

The Big Easy always has great jazz performances. Jeremy Davenport, from University City, MO, is featured at The Ritz-Carlton on the edge of the French Quarter.

It's easy to find a University City jazz musician (Jeremy Davenport) with a lounge named after him in the Big Easy Ritz.

In the Big Easy, jazz is not only played, but also performed. :-) Here’s Jeremy Davenport with his current band in his lounge at the Ritz.

It's easy to attend a free jazz performance by Jeremy Davenport.

Many restaurants in the Big Easy offer second floor balcony seating. It’s a great place to have a Po’ Boy and people watch.

It's easy to eat Po-Boys sandwiches on the balcony at a river-view cafe.

The Big Easy is known for its Cajun and Zydeco culture. Is easy to find the music of the culture performed.

It's easy to find a Cajun/Zydeco live band performance.

In the French Quarter of the Big Easy there seems to be a parade a day. There are parades for special days and many second line parades.

It's always easy to find a parade.

The people of the Big Easy called Katrina what they thought she was and then slipped back into their big easy lives. :-)

It's easy to see what the Big Easy thinks of Katrina. :-)

So, what’s easy in the Big Easy? Now, that’s an easy question! Look above. :-)

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What’s So Mysterious About Sedona, AZ?

November, 2010

Sedona, Arizona, as viewed from the plateau where Sedona's airport is located.

Note: This post is meant to be a combination of a travel journal and a discussion about the mysterious aspect of Sedona, AZ. Please click on a picture if you would like to see it enlarged.

On a recent trip to Sedona, Arizona, the one word that kept creeping up in my mind was “mystical.”

A villa resort, in Sedona, with the picturesque red mountains in the background.

That area of the United States is known for its red picturesque mountains and as I discovered, while spending a week in the Sedona area, it’s also known for vortexes. Yes, vortexes and not vortices, is the way the “locals” spell it.

So what is a vortex? The way I had used the word, before visiting Sedona, was to describe a whirlwind, whirlpool, or in general, something that swirls and tends to force everything towards a center while swirling around.

Possible picture of a vortex. Notice the energy field in the sky.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, eddies, etc., are examples of vortexes or vortices. In Sedona and the surrounding area, vortexes are swirling centers of subtle energy coming out from the surface of the earth. The vortex energy is not exactly electricity or magnetism, although it does, supposedly, leave a slight measurable residual magnetism in the places where it is strongest.

Sedona shopping area.

When my wife and I first drove into Sedona, it seemed that every other building had some advertisement regarding mysticism, vortexes, crystals, new age, Native American goods, naturalists, etc. We, like almost everyone else, were in awe of the beautiful natural red-rock mountains. The mystics, Native Americans, new age enthusiasts, naturalists, etc.,  all consider the area to be a special place for healing and renewal.

The sacred red rock area of Sedona!

Specifically, Native Americans have both a practical and spiritual relationship with the Sedona area. The land was always respected for the food and shelter it provided, and was also used for spiritual practices. The native people gathered together at the sacred sites they created for ceremonies, healing and to offer prayer. Remnants of these sacred sites can still be found in ruins around Sedona. Sedona has also become a gathering place for New Agers, who believe the region emanates a mystical power.

My wife, George and the jeep!

We arrived in Sedona on Saturday evening, and while visiting a tourist information center we signed-up for a two-hour jeep tour of the area. Our guide, George, was a nice sixty-six year old ex-marine who we found to be extremely interesting and complex.

George started out by explaining the terrain, how it was formed, why the rocks are red, how the Native Americans valued the area, etc. He explained how the area has been used for many western movies and that John Wayne produced his first movie there.

An area near Sedona used for many western films.

George told us that almost 100 feature films and countless video productions and commercials have been shot either in full or in part in the Sedona area. After showing us a few of the more famous scenic regions and places where a lot of the movies were filmed, he began explaining the medicinal value of many of the plants we were driving by.

When, George, our guide for the jeep tour, pointed out the various medicinal plants, we started asking him questions regarding his opinion of their actual value. He then started explaining everything from a much more personal perspective.

The herb Rosemary - used for stomach upsets, digestive disorders and headaches.

George told us that he had, for most of his life, considered himself to be a warrior. Since he had been a marine, that made perfect sense. But, then he proclaimed he no longer thought of himself as a warrior. He had literally had a life-altering experience six-months ago. He went to see his doctor for a regular check-up and the doctor immediately admitted him into the hospital and performed an operation to unclog an artery. During the operation, George claimed he “passed over to the other side!” In other words, he died and then came back to life. He said his doctor had to revive him twice during that time.

Church of the Holy Cross. Perhaps, this helped George to "see the light."

It’s what George told us next, that I found most interesting. He told us he “saw the beautiful white light, met and talked with his dead father, and then felt a profound sense of calm.” Having this experience, he said, also changed the way he thought about himself and life. It was because of the experience of “dying and coming back to life,” that he was no longer a warrior, but instead, is a peaceful and loving person who now believes fighting is to be avoided at all cost.

No, this isn't an example of sitting and meditating! :-)

George was married and divorced twice and since his “death” experience, both of his ex-wives have told him they no longer hate him, but instead love the person he has now become. It was truly, for him, a life-altering experience on many different levels.

After George returned us to our place of stay, I started paying more attention to the mysterious aspect of Sedona. As we took various trips through the outlying canyons and mountains, I noticed places where people had parked their cars, walked to an open space, laid out a blanket and were meditating. Some of the areas were designated vortexes.

R2 and Kathy at the double vortex. Can you see the energy? :-)

On one of our day trips, we drove up Oak Creek Canyon, and then out of the canyon by driving up a “switch back” road. We stopped at a scenic view at the end of the switch back that was designated as a double vortex. in this case, it was “double” because it was an “upflow and lateral combination” vortex

The “scenic view” was also a place where Native Americans (Navajo) sold jewelry. While there, I bought my wife a special set of earrings that have a “swirling” vortex design that means a new beginning. The earrings are made out of silver, which according to the native americans, provides emotional balance, strengthens, and promotes self-improvement. Now, that’s some energy! :-)

The "swirling" vortex earrings that mean a new beginning!

An interesting fact about our visit to the “scenic view” at the end of Oak Creek Canyon is that it wasn’t until the next day that I realized the place was a designated vortex. But, while I was there, I truly did feel an indescribable sense of power permeating my body. At the time, I thought it had to do with going from the bottom of the canyon to the top or perhaps just the freshness of the air. Now, frankly, I don’t know. I guess I’m agnostic regarding vortexes. :-)

So, what’s so mysterious about Sedona? Native American sacred area, new age mystical power region, vortex energy fields and a sincere local person who died and came back to life. Doesn’t that make it a little mysterious? :-)

R2 bids you good-bye from "The Cowboy Club" - John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Elvis Presley and many others used this "watering-hole" while filming westerns in Sedona.


Really, Is There A “Wine Country” Near St. Louis, Missouri?

July, 2010

Suppose you like to visit wineries and you are in Saint Louis, Missouri. What’s the possibility of finding a good group of wineries close enough to visit, and then return to St. Louis? And, how about doing this in one afternoon? What’s the possibility? 100%!

Look at the map below this paragraph. The town of Augusta, Missouri is marked with an “A,” located along highway 94 and in the middle of what is now officially called, the Augusta Wine Region. Notice the ruler icon in the lower left-hand corner showing the 5 mile/10 km increments for the map. The Augusta Wine Region is less than an hour drive from almost anywhere in St. Louis. (Note: All maps and most pictures in this posting can be enlarged by simply clicking on them. Your browser will load an enlarged picture in a new window.)

I live in St. Louis and have enjoyed Missouri wineries in this area, now known as the Augusta Wine Region, for over thirty years. When my wife and I started dating, thirty-four years ago, one of our first dates was to Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta, Missouri. It is the oldest winery in the region. It was established in 1859, and is located in the heart of the Augusta Appellation Wine District. That district is the first in the United States, founded in 1980. For time comparison, Napa Valley, in California, was the second in 1983.

My wife and I spent the afternoon in the Augusta Wine Region on June 29, 2010. I took pictures at each of the nine “wine-stops” between Chandler Hill Winery (beginning) and Blumenhof Winery (end). Some of these pictures are provided for your viewing pleasure and to help give you an idea of what the Augusta Wine Region is like.

The distance from Chandler Hill (labeled “C” on the above map) to Blumenhof (labeled “B” on the above map) is 16 miles. The map below shows you the various wine-stops between them.

When looking at the map below, you can see the relative distances between all of the nine wine-stops that we encountered on June 29. Following the map, is a “hyper-texted” name of each wine-stop and some information that I hope you find interesting and useful. By clicking on the hyper-texted name of each stop (usually a winery), your web browser will open up the website for that particular wine-stop.

The rest of this post is designed to help you have a virtual driving tour of the Augusta Wine Region that my wife and I did on June 29, 2010. The wine-colored car separates each stop, so you will know when we are back on the road. :-)

Again, most pictures can be enlarged, if you click on them.

Our first stop is Chandler Hill Vineyards. On June 29, my wife and I arrived around lunch time and had sandwiches and a glass of wine on their “over-sized” deck.

Chandler Hill Vineyards

Chandler Hill is one of the newest AND closest to St. Louis. It opened in 2008 and now features good food with nice facilities for eating – either inside or outside. They charge for tasting and you are not allowed to bring food or drink.

This is the entrance to Chandler Hill as you enter from Defiance Road, near highway F.

Here’s a little history of the land that the winery is on, quoted directly from their website. “In the early 1870s, a former slave traveled north from the Civil War-torn south and settled near Defiance, Missouri. Befriended by a family who lived on property next to that belonging to the family of Daniel Boone the freed man worked on their farm for many years and was married in the 1880s. Eventually, the family deeded him 40 acres of their land including a hill overlooking the beautiful Femme Osage Valley.”

This is the view from Chandler Hill’s extra large deck.

“The man’s name was Joseph Chandler who died in 1952 at the age of 103. Chandler Hill Vineyards operates on the same property he once owned. The tasting room and winery stands on the site of Joseph Chandler’s modest cabin. During excavation for the winery building many century-old artifacts were uncovered including a shotgun, rifle, stove remnants, buttons and china. These storied relics of Joseph Chandler are on display at the winery. The stones from the original cabin foundation were also carefully removed and are being used as a feature at the winery.”

After having lunch, we left Chandler Hill and visited Wine Country Gardens. Until recently, we have been stopping in the Gardens primarily for buying plants. For example, my wife and I have seven beautiful Holly Bushes from Wine Country Gardens that we planted in our yard three years ago. Of course, it was nice to be able to taste wine before buying the bushes. :-)

Because of the nursery, if for no other reason, this stop in wine country is well worth it. This is true, even if you aren’t interested in purchasing plants. In some ways, it’s like a small botanical garden. And, you can taste and purchase wine!

Wine Country Gardens

The Wine Country Gardens has been growing each year since 1997. It started out as an overgrown farm and farmhouse and is now a large nursery, restaurant and wine garden. You may buy wine by the glass or bottle, but no Missouri wine is offered. They do not charge for wine tasting.

This gives you an idea of how big this facility is. The outdoor seating for the cafe is on the right and the tasting room is behind the wall directly behind the lovely model. Behind the photographer is another large seating area.

Here is a quote directly from their website: “Featured in “Better Homes and Gardens” our 42 acre nursery and farm provides a relaxing country atmosphere while offering a selection of over 80,000 perennials and flowering shrubs. Our lovely century old home over looks the beautiful Missouri River valley and is surrounded by many patios, ponds with waterfalls, swans and ducks, gift shops and display gardens. The Patio Café & Wine Garden is open daily to further enhance your experience.”

On June 29, we weren’t able to visit the Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery since it was Tuesday and they weren’t open. In the past, when I did visit, I was given a tour by the owner. The winery is small and I would classify it as a “boutique” winery.

Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery

I have been to the Yellow Farmhouse Winery only once since it opened a few years ago. I usually try to visit the wine country during the week and the Yellow Farmhouse is only open on the weekends. It’s a small winery located in the center of the small town of Defiance, Missouri. When I went, there was a charge for tasting, but the cost was waved if you purchased a bottle or more.

Here is information about the winery, quoted from their website: “Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & winery began as an idea in the late 1990′s. Dale Rollings, an avid “basement winemaker”, having lived and worked in nearby St Charles for over thirty-five years, had visited the wineries of the Missouri River Valley many times and recognized that the wines made there were improving with each passing harvest. It was well-known that vineyards were flourishing along the Missouri river from Defiance to Hermann, and that Highway 94 was becoming a veritable ‘route du vin’. Each weekend, more and more visitors made the journey to the vineyards and wineries that dotted the hills along the river.”

“In 2003, Dale acquired the first tract of what would become Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & Winery. It was then a dilapidated bed-and-breakfast, but the hillside was perfect for growing grapes. In the spring of 2005 the first Norton vines were planted. The site proved to be just right.”

As mentioned before, we did not stop in the Yellow Farmhouse, so our next stop was Sugar Creek Winery. We tasted, had a nice visit with Ken, one of the owners and bought a bottle of wine. Ken mentioned that we would have a drink for my birthday, the next time I visited. What a nice and friendly place Sugar Creek Winery is! It consistently provides me with the greatest positive “wine country” experience in the Augusta Wine Region!

Sugar Creek Winery

Sugar Creek Winery is one of my favorites. My wife and I consider the owners, Ken and Becky Miller, our friends. We have known them since the mid-nineties when they bought and opened Sugar Creek. Tasting is free and picnic baskets are welcomed – all drinks must be purchased at the winery.

Here’s Sugar Creek’s sign along highway 94.

Here is a direct quote from Sugar Creek Winery’s website about their tradition: “Never mind that hilly, wooded area in West Kirkwood Missouri known as Sugar Creek, we’ve found our own version of sweetness on the bluffs of wine country in St. Charles County. We Kirkwood expatriates made our big move to Missouri’s vineyard mountains in 1994. We christened this happy hideaway Sugar Creek Winery, and we continue to have plenty of visitors from our old hometown of Kirkwood and the surrounding environs to keep us company. We really love it here. Every morning we wake up to fantastic scenery and a fascinating and growing business. It’s a business that attracts some really special people – people who are looking to relax and enjoy the product of our vineyards.”

Sugar Creek’s entrance. As you can most likely determine, you drive up a steep hill and are rewarded with spectacular vistas.

I think you can tell, from the previous paragraph, how nice and friendly the ambiance is at the winery.

This picture was taken from Sugar Creek’s deck last year. I think it will give you an idea of the view from their deck.

After leaving Sugar Creek, we drove to Montelle Winery. On the way to Montelle, you climb a rather steep hill by a quarry known as Klondike Quarry. The hill is steep and winding and has a couple sharp curves that together was known in the sixties as “dead-man’s curve.” It’s much safer now. :-)

Montelle Winery

Montelle Winery was one of the first wineries that my wife and I went to in 1976. It was a lot smaller during the 70’s and 80’s, but has always had one of the best scenic views. Tasting is free, but you can’t bring any food or beverage – all must be bought there.

This is the entrance for Montelle Winery from highway 94.

The winery has a long history. Here is a direct quote from the winery’s website: “The Augusta region was nationally known for its wine during the 19th century, but Prohibition halted the state’s winemaking for decades. Then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a few pioneering souls began to refurbish the old vineyards and winery buildings. One of these pioneers was Clayton Byers, who founded Montelle Vineyards in 1970. The winery was later purchased in 1998 by present owner and wine maker Tony Kooyumjian.”

“The secret to our success in producing outstanding wines is our vineyards. The Augusta area was chosen as the first viticulture area in the United States because of our unique soils, microclimate, and history, and it is our mission to produce wines that exemplify the uniqueness of this eleven square mile area. Our philosophy is to farm our vineyards with a respect for the land and the environment. As a result, our wines are fresh, fragrant, focused, and well-balanced, but most of all, express the uniqueness of our vineyards. It is this attention to detail that has enabled us to produce wines that are continuously recognized for their uniqueness and superior quality.”

The view from the the deck of Montelle Winery is spectacular!

“In addition to our wines, Montelle is also the first winery in Missouri with a distillery. We produce four kinds of brandy: apple, peach, cherry and grape (grappa).”

The next stop on our wine country tour is Augusta Winery, located in the town of Augusta. It’s a sister winery to Montelle.

Augusta Winery

Augusta Winery is owned by Tony Kooyumjian, who also owns Montelle Winery. He bought both wineries in 1988. In my opinion, Augusta Winery has good wine and is reasonably priced, especially if you buy bottles to take-home. Tasting is free and they do have a nice outdoor area to sit. Sorry, I have no pictures of their newly expanded outdoor area but the home page on their website does offer some.

Here is a quote from Missouri Wine Country about Augusta Winery: “Augusta Winery makes fine wines in a variety of styles, from dry European to sweet dessert wines, all from vineyards dating back over 100 years. Located in the first federally designated viticulture area in the U.S., Augusta Winery vints its wines in small quantities so special care may be given to each lot. Winner of the Governor’s Cup for Best Missouri Wine in 2004, 2006, & 2007, enjoy a bottle of our award-winning wines with locally produced cheeses and sausages on our wine terrace. The winery also features a tasting room, gift shop, and custom-labeled wine for your special occasions. Come our and enjoy our NEW terrace, the Augusta Wine & Beer Garden! It features a spectacular 10-foot tall grape arbor and a serene water fountain.”

Also, in the town of Augusta, is one of the oldest wineries in the United States, Mount Pleasant Winery. It’s only a block from Augusta Winery, but is much bigger. We could have easily walked from the Augusta Winery to Mt. Pleasant Winery.

Mount Pleasant Winery

Mt. Pleasant was the first winery that my wife and I visited over thirty years ago. As mentioned before, one of our first dates was at this winery. It has grown to over ten times the size it was in the 70’s. They charge for tasting and do not allow any outside food or beverages.

This is a current picture of the patio at Mt. Pleasant Winery where we shared that first “wine date” and a bottle of wine, thirty-fours years ago.

Mt. Pleasant’s outdoor seating area that my wife and I shared that “first wine date bottle of wine.”

Here is a direct quote about the history of Mt. Pleasant from their website: “Mount Pleasant Winery was founded in 1859 in Augusta, Missouri; America’s first designated wine district. George Munch, who came with his brother, Frederick, from Germany, established a vineyard and winery in an area that reminded him of his homeland. From the beauty of the topography to the incredible potential for creating excellent wines, they chose Mount Pleasant. The original cellars were completed in 1881 and were built from the wood and abundant limestone in the area.”

This picture shows some of the buildings and a little of the view when sitting out in Mt. Pleasant’s terrace.

“When Prohibition hit in 1920 the winery was forced to close and all of the vines were removed. In 1966, the winery was reopened and the vineyards were replanted with self-rooted vines and classic grafted European varieties.”

“In 1980, the Augusta Appellation was created and became America’s First Wine District.”

“Today, the winery grows 16 grape varieties on 85 acres and the original cellars are still used to age the “estate bottled” wines and our international award-winning Augusta Ports.”

After Mount Pleasant and the town of Augusta, our tour continued along highway 94 to Louis P. Balducci Vineyards. We usually refer to it as just, “Balducci’s.”

Louis P. Balducci Vineyards

Louis P. Balducci Vineyards is another of my favorite wineries, not only for the wine, food and scenery, but also because I met my wife at Balducci’s Winefest restaurant in West St. Louis County in 1976. This was long before the winery was open, but one of the owners of the winery (Rick Balducci), also is an owner and founder of the West St. Louis County restaurant. Tasting at the winery is free and you may bring your own food, but they do have some of the best food for sale in the Augusta Wine Region.

The entrance to Balducci’s from highway 94.

Here is a direct quote from the winery’s website that illustrates how welcome you are made to feel when you visit.

“Welcome to Louis P. Balducci Vineyards and Winery, Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of rustic Italia!”

“Nestled on 76 acres in the rolling hills of Augusta, Missouri, you’ll find Louis P. Balducci Vineyards and Winery. Family owned and operated since 1987, the 100 year-old farm and vineyard is situated on picturesque grounds that offer a truly relaxing atmosphere like no other.”

This picture was taken last Fall and shows the view from the back of the tasting room at Balducci’s.

“Come sip our premium Missouri wines or select beers, dine on sumptuous, award-winning food from selected family recipes, or simply “go casual” and bring a blanket & your own picnic basket to enjoy on our spacious grounds. You’ll take delight in the sounds of the very best music our area has to offer. And your experience is complemented by a second-to-none staff that makes you feel like famiglia! (family)”

And, now we are at the last winery on our tour of the Augusta Wine Region – Blumenhof Vineyards. As mentioned earlier, we had a glass of wine at the first winery, Chandler Hill. After that glass, we only tasted at the other wineries. Before we left St. Louis for our visit to wine country, we had arranged to meet my sister at Blumenhof. She lives relatively close to Dutzow, Missouri, where Blumenhof is located. She joined us for a tasting, a bottle of wine and a relaxing good time.

Blumenhof Vineyards

Blumenhof is another winery that I have been going to for over 30 years. It has always had good wine at a reasonable price. The atmosphere is created first, by the chalet style of the winery and second, by the strong German theme. In fact, I have been there, more than once, when they had for entertainment an “OOM-PA-PA” group (band with a tubist)! Tasting is free and you may bring your own food.

The entrance to Blumenhof from highway 94.

Here is a direct quote from their website: “Blumenhof Winery is located on Highway 94 in the historic village of Dutzow, Missouri’s oldest German settlement, founded in 1832. Blumenhof, which in German means “Court of Flowers” takes its name from the Blumenberg family’s ancestral farm in northwestern Germany. German heritage is also expressed in the winery’s architecture and in the warm friendly ambiance that invites visitors to “stop… and smell the Blumen.”

———-

After the bottle of wine and a long visit with my sister, we drove back to St. Louis. In about an hour, after leaving Blumenhof, we were sitting in our living room and reminiscing about the wonderful afternoon we spent in the Augusta Wine Region. We had comfortably visited seven wineries and one nursery/restaurant which serves wine and looks like a botanical garden, ALL in one afternoon. Of course another winery was closed, but it would have been possible, on the weekend, to have nine wine-stops. Wow!

Well, I hope you enjoyed the tour. In the future, I plan on doing more posts on the Augusta Wine Region. For the next three or four that I do, I will concentrate on some specific characteristics of one or two wineries and hopefully, give you the reader, more of the feel and/or ambiance that I experienced while visiting them.

So, is there a “wine country” near St. Louis, Missouri? I say YES! What do you think?


What’s Old About St. Augustine?

April, 2010

R2 at the entrance of the oldest city in the US – St. Augustine, Florida.

Juan Ponce De Leon discovered Florida near the location of St. Augustine in 1513. Did you know that he was less than 5 feet tall?

I recently was vacationing in what many consider to be the oldest city in the United States.  I’m referring to St. Augustine, Florida, which is 444 years old and was settled only sixty-nine years after Santo Domingo in today’s Dominican Republic, the oldest continuing European settlement in all of the New World. I knew before I arrived in St. Augustine that it was advertised as the oldest American city, but its long and storied history was generally unknown to me.

The current Fountain Of Youth Archaeological Park is where in 1565 Spanish Admiral Menendez established the first European colony in North America. It was here first and later moved back to the mainland, its current location.

I am not writing this post as a history lesson, but I will include some of the personal historical highlights that I found interesting.

St. Augustine was founded on September 8, 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Spanish admiral and convoy captain of the treasure fleets in the mid-sixteenth century. Admiral Menéndez was appointed conqueror and commander of the colonization of the Spanish land known as “La Florida,” before the French Protestants (Huguenots) arrived in 1564 on what is now Jacksonville, Florida. Pedro Menéndez’s was charged with the responsibilities of expelling the French Huguenots, occupying La Florida and to Christianize the native inhabitants. Menéndez and his crew first arrived near today’s Cape Canaveral and then sailed north to an inlet the French called the River of Dolphins. He landed there and renamed the site St. Augustine, in honor of the great theologian, whose works and writings contributed significantly to the formation of Catholic Christianity more than 1,500 years ago.

This inlet is now called Matanzas which means slaughters. Here is where the Spanish slaughtered the non-Catholic French soldiers.

As Menéndez and the Spanish were fighting with the French over La Florida, a hurricane hit the French fleet, causing them to be grounded south of St. Augustine near a wide inlet. Menéndez and his soldiers captured the surviving French at the inlet and executed all non-Catholics. This inlet is now called Matanzas which means slaughters.

St. Augustine survived many destructive attacks, fires and hurricanes for the next 100 years, in which it was always rebuilt while using wood for the building material. After a pirate attack in 1668, which resulted in the city being sacked, the Castillo, a great coquina (shellstone) fort was built to replace the last of nine wooden forts. It’s high, thick stone wall and numerous cannons stood as an impregnable and permanent fortress that remains today.

In 1668,the Castillo, a great coquina (shell-stone) fort was built to replace the last of nine wooden forts.

Besides the Castillo and the old entrance (pictured at top of post) to the city, there are a few houses/buildings that were constructed in the early eighteenth century with coquina that are still standing today. The history of St. Augustine is long and interesting. It has The Fountain of Youth, “discovered” by Ponce de Leon and Flagler College, named for Henry Flagler, a self-made millionaire, who with John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company. Flagler, in the late nineteenth century, set about the task of building a great Gilded Age empire of hotels and railroads that extended from St. Augustine south to Key West, Florida. He employed the Spanish Colonial Revival as the architectural style for his huge hotels. The Ponce de Leon Hotel in the old city of St. Augustine stills stands today and functions as Flagler College.

St. Augustine has had a long life with historical significance. It has some beautiful architecture and an abundance of scenic beauty. There have been numerous famous people who have spent significant time in St. Augustine – personalities such as, Ponce de Leon, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Francis Drake and Henry Morrison Flagler. It was a continuously inhabited city for nearly three centuries before being acquired by the United States in 1821.

St. Augustine may be old, but R2 has found a way to be young! :-)

So, what’s old about St. Augustine? St. Augustine is what’s old about it. On my second day of visiting St. Augustine, I was in the oldest house, next to the oldest street in the oldest city in the United States. Wow!

 

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House (The oldest house)!

Aviles Street, the oldest street named in honor of the birthplace of Pedro Menedez de Aviles (founder of St. Augustine)

The oldest pub in the oldest city, but it didn’t have any old wine! :-)


What’s So Great About Boone, Charleston And Hilton Head?

September, 2009
The Blue Ridge Mountains of Boone, NC. Do you see the "blue ridge?"

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Boone, NC. Do you see the “blue ridge?”

Entering The Great Smoky Mountains. Does It "look smoky?"

Entering The Great Smoky Mountains. Does It “look smoky?”

September 1 to September 13, 2009, was the time span of my last vacation. My wife and I spent two days in Boone, NC, one day in Charleston, SC and one week on Hilton Head Island, SC. This was a driving vacation which resulted in our staying overnight in Knoxville and Chattanooga, TN, as well. It was the third time we have visited Charleston and the sixth time we have spent at least a week on Hilton Head Island. Obviously, we like those two destinations. :-)

A Blue Ridge Mountain stream behind our friend's house.

A Blue Ridge Mountain stream behind our friend’s house.

The first day was spent driving to Knoxville, TN. We rested there for the night after a meal at Puleos Grille. The next morning we drove south and east through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Asheville, NC, and to Boone, NC. My wife and I have a friend who lives in Boone, NC. We spent two days visiting, sight-seeing in the Blue Ridge Mountains and learning about how our friend does hand-weaving.

Our "weaver" friend's workshop.

Our “weaver” friend’s workshop.

View from our Courtyard Charleston room.

View from our Courtyard Charleston room.

On September 4 we drove to Charleston, SC, where we stayed at the Courtyard Charleston Waterfront. That evening we went to the old part of Charleston for an “unscheduled” French Quarter Art Walk, some shopping and a nice meal at Magnolias restaurant, one of Charleston’s most popular restaurant which is located at the site of the city’s original Customs House (circa 1739). Later that evening, we returned to the Courtyard where I had a white russian literally made by a white Russian. You see, the bartender at the Courtyard was a young white woman from Russia and, well, you know the rest. :-)

Our view from our villa!

Our view from our villa!

After breakfast the following morning, we drove to HIlton Head Island. We had a villa at the Marriott Grande Ocean Resort reserved for the week of September 5 – 12. Upon arriving at the resort we immediately rented bicycles for the week, stocked up on supplies for eating and drinking and I discovered that I left my extra shoes at the Courtyard in Charleston. That meant I had only one pair of shoes for the week. Really, what that meant was that I would have to buy a pair of shoes real soon. :-) I did on Monday at the local outlet mall.

Our week on Hilton Head Island was filled with lots of bicycling, partying with friends, golfing, going out to eat and relaxing. Some of the pictures on this posting give you a visual idea of what it was like.

Biking on the beach of Hilton Head.

Biking on the beach of Hilton Head.

We left Hilton Head on Saturday, September 12, and drove to Chattanooga, TN where we had dinner at Portofinos, a restaurant owned by Greeks that serves Italian and Greek food. We have eaten there enough that we now “sort of” know the owners. After a night’s rest, we returned to St. Louis on September 13.

The majestic Atlantic Ocean.

The majestic Atlantic Ocean.

Every vacation starts and ends the same way for me. I’m always happy to leave home and go on vacation and happy to “vacate the vacation” and come home. What’s so great about Boone, Charleston and Hilton Head? It was my latest greatest vacation! :-)

Sunset over Dafuskie Island as viewed from Hiliton Head.

Sunset over Dafuskie Island as viewed from Hiliton Head.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures. There are more photos on my website. Simply point your browser to R2’S PHOTO ALBUMS after arriving at the site. Also, please forgive the format of this post where the “words are woven through the pictures.” I guess this was inspired by our friend, the “Boone Weaver.” :-)

grab-small-r21


A Web Log Of An (out) Door County Vacation?

July, 2009
An Out Door Vacation?
Recently I had “open door” vacation. What’s an open door vacation, you ask? Well, my brother and sister-in-laws have a nice house on twenty acres of land near Ellison Bay, Wisconsin. Actually, the house is about as far from Northport, the northern most point of Door County as it is from Ellison Bay. For any of you that are not familiar with Door County, Wisconsin, it is a penesula with Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. It is sometimes referred to as the “Cape Cod” of the midwest. Having been to both, Cape Cod and Door County, I agree with the comparison though I think Door County is a little less developed and smaller without any large sandy beaches. Less beach focus and more of just hanging out door, uh, out in Door county. :-)
Before I go any further into this Door County experience, I think our Monday afternoon and evening is worth a few words. We, my wife, her brother and me, drove from St. Louis to Chicago and arrived at the Courtyard on the Magnificent Mile early in the afternoon. We, after checking in to our rooms, we straight to the Navy Pier for exercise and people watching. Later that evening we drove to Greek Town and had a delightful meal at Santorinis. Not only was the meal great, but we also had an exceptional bottle of Greek Chardonnay. Who would have thought that the Greeks are now making Chardonnay. We were in Greece in 1994 and never saw any Chardonnay (it’s R2’s favorite wine:-). On Tuesday morning, before leaving Chicago, we walked along Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile) and saw the mouth of the Chicago river, the Tribune Building and various other “big city” buildings that together form a “building canyon.” After that walk, we were off to Door County by way of Milwaukee, Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin.
Upon arriving at our relatives house, we immediately went for a walk to “loosen up.” After the walk and a quick clean-up we had some beer, wine and a good time. My brother-in-law and the ladies prepared dinner while I did little but rest. After all, I did drive all the way from Chicago and must have been tired. :-)
The next morning was beautiful with a bright sun and temperatures in the sixties. We had a late breakfast and then went for a walk through the property of my in-laws. It was during the walk that Andy, my brother-in-law, announced that he wanted to name his place, “Blackberry Fields Forever – Nothing To Get Hung About.” The inspiration for the name comes from the large number of blackberry plants that grows wild on the property and of course, the Beatles tune, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” On one end of the property there is a long, big and old stone fence. It is made of stones that have been picked up from the surrounding fields. The stones contain fossils that date back to the Siluriam Period, 400 million years ago. Andy has heard that there are trilobite (current walking animals’ long lost relative) fossils. We looked, but couldn’t find any. I found it interesting – looking for evidence of ancestors that lived 400 million years ago. Wow!
We had a gender split where the ladies went shopping and the men went exploring. Our explorations took us to Northport, which is about the northern most point of the peninsula part of Door County. From there we observed the ferry that joined the peninsula of Door County to Washington Island. The six mile span of water between the two is known as “Death’s Door,” so named by the Indians because of the large number of canoes that sank there. Apparently the current and strong winds make it difficult to navigate. The door part of Death’s Door is where the name, Door County, is derived. I guess they left the word “death” off for obvious reasons. :-) After Northport, we went to Gils Point for some freshly smoked Atlantic Salmon. Yummy!
The next stop in our “guys day out” was Newport State Park, which gave us a view of Lake Michigan. We walked a hiking trail that provided us with views of moss, trees and the beach along Lake Michigan. We then took a bike ride through the northern tip of Door County that provided us with an up close view of where the local people live. That night, after a white fish chowder made by our host, Cyn, we did some star gazing with Andy’s Celestron Starhopper telescope. We “zeroed” in on the Northern Star and saw the milky way in a “milky way.” In other words, we saw why it’s called the milky way. :-)
The next morning, after Belgium waffles, Yummy, Kathy and I were able to walk back to the Stone Wall without a guide. Yea! In the afternoon we went for a ride on Andy’s pontoon boat in Ellison Bay which is a part of Green Bay which is a part of Lake Michigan. :-) That night Bill took us all out for a nice meal at Kristofer’s in Sister Bay. Our table look out over Sister Bay and we had a wonderful view of the sunset while we enjoy a delicious meal, giving us good taste through our eyes and mouth. AND, we had a Door County made pie for desert. Yummy, yummy!
Our last day, Friday, was a day of walking and resting. It was also our coldest day with the nighttime temperature around 50 degrees and daytime of 62 degrees. AND, no humidity. In fact, I wore a t-shirt and long sleeve shirt everyday. Wow! Last, but not least, I bought two pounds of freshly smoked salmon to bring home. It is good to eat for two weeks. Yummy!
A Door County Mansion

A Door County Mansion

Recently I had an “out Door” vacation. What’s an out Door vacation, you ask? Well, Andy and Cyn, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, have a nice house on twenty acres of land in Door County, Wisconsin. For any of you that are not familiar with Door County, it is a peninsula with Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. It is sometimes referred to as the “Cape Cod” of the midwest. Having been to both Cape Cod and Door County, I agree with the comparison, though I think Door County is a little less developed and smaller, without any large sandy beaches. Less beach focus and more of just hanging out door, uh, out in Door County. :-)

Chicago Skyline From the Navy Pier

Chicago Skyline From the Navy Pier

Before I go any further into this Door County experience, I think our Monday afternoon and evening is worth a few words. We, Kathy, my wife, Bill, her brother and I, drove from St. Louis to Chicago and arrived at the Courtyard on the Magnificent Mile early in the afternoon. After checking in, we walked to the Navy Pier for exercise and people watching. Later that evening, we drove to Greek Town and had a delightful meal at Santorini’s. Not only was the meal great, but we also had an exceptional bottle of Greek Chardonnay. Who would have thought that the Greeks are now making Chardonnay? We were in Greece in 1994 and never saw any Chardonnay (it’s R2’s favorite wine:-). On Tuesday morning, before leaving Chicago, we walked along Michigan Avenue (Magnificent Mile) and saw the mouth of the Chicago River, the Tribune Building and various other “big city” buildings that together form a “building canyon.” After the walk, we were off to Door County by way of Milwaukee, Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin.

Chicago - A Canyon of Buildings

Chicago – A Canyon of Buildings

Walking To The Stone Wall

Walking To The Stone Wall

Upon arriving at Cyn and Andy’s house, we immediately went for a walk to “loosen up.” After the walk and a quick clean-up, we had some beer, wine and a good time. Andy and the ladies prepared dinner while Bill and I did little but rest. After all, I did drive all the way from Chicago and must have been tired and Bill did the navigating which I’m sure was stressful. :-)

The next morning was beautiful with a bright sun and temperatures in the sixties. We had a late breakfast and then went for a walk through the property of my in-laws. It was during the walk that Andy announced that he wanted to name his place, “Blackberry Fields Forever – Nothing To Get Hung About.” The inspiration for the name comes from the large number of blackberry plants that grows wild on the property and of course, the Beatles tune, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” On one end of the property there is a long, big and old stone fence. It is made of stones that have been picked up from the surrounding fields. The stones contain fossils that date back to the Siluriam Period, 400 million years ago. Andy has heard that there are trilobite (current walking animals’ long lost relative) fossils. We looked, but couldn’t find any. I found it interesting – looking for evidence of ancestors that lived 400 million years ago. Wow!

The Stone Wall - With Fossil Stones

The Stone Wall – With Fossil Stones

The Ferry To Washington Island Through "Death's Door"

The Ferry To Washington Island Through “Death’s Door”

We had a gender split where the ladies went shopping and the men went exploring. Our explorations took us to Northport, which is about the northern most point of the peninsula part of Door County. From there we observed the ferry that joins the peninsula of Door County to Washington Island. The six mile span of water between the two is known as “Death’s Door,” so named by the Indians because of the large number of canoes that sank there. Apparently the current and strong winds make it difficult to navigate. The door part of Death’s Door is the origin of the name, Door County. I guess they left the word “death” off for obvious reasons. :-) After Northport, we went to Gills Rock (Charlie’s  Smokehouse) for some freshly smoked Atlantic Salmon. Yummy!

The next stop in our “guys day out” was Newport State Park, which gave us a view of Lake Michigan. We walked a hiking trail that provided us with views of moss, trees and the beach along Lake Michigan. We then took a bike ride through the northern tip of Door County that provided us with an up close view of where the local people live. That night, after a white fish chowder made by our host, Cyn, we did some star gazing with Andy’s Celestron Starhopper telescope. We “zeroed” in on the Northern Star and saw the milky way in a “milky way.” In other words, we saw why it’s called the milky way. :-)

Andy's Celestron Starhopper Telescope

Andy’s Celestron Starhopper Telescope

Sunset In Sister Bay

Sunset In Sister Bay

The next morning, Kathy and I were able to walk back to the Stone Wall without a guide. Yea! In the afternoon we went for a ride on Andy’s pontoon boat in Ellison Bay, which is a part of Green Bay which is a part of Lake Michigan. :-) That night Bill took us all out for a nice meal at Kristofer’s in Sister Bay. Our table looked out over Sister Bay; we had a wonderful view of the sunset while we enjoyed a delicious meal, giving us good taste through our eyes and mouth. AND, we had a Door County cherry-apple pie for dessert. Yummy, yummy!

Our last day, Friday, was a day of walking and resting. It was also our coldest day with the nighttime temperature around 50 degrees and daytime of 62 degrees. AND, no humidity. In fact, I wore a t-shirt and long sleeve shirt everyday. Wow! Last, but not least, I bought two pounds of freshly smoked salmon to bring home. It is good to eat for two weeks. Yummy!grab-small-r21

View of the Cliffs of Ellison Bay from the boat

View of the Cliffs of Ellison Bay from the boat

Beautifully Clear Green Bay - Lake Michigan

Beautifully Clear Green Bay – Lake Michigan


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