Western Pennsylvania’s Surprises – Part 2

I know, I know–there has been a bit of a gap between Western Pennsylvania’s Part 1 and Part 2. That’s what happens when you follow a lazy blogger.

So, to review: my last post pointed out our mistaken belief that Fallingwater would be the only attraction the Ohiopyle area had to offer. Were WE ever wrong. Instead, we discovered multiple highlights, many of them located at the Nemacolin Resort.

If you have never heard of the Nemacolin resort, join the club. Neither had we. The Fallingwater website listed several area hotels, beds & breakfasts and inns. Because this trip was an anniversary celebration, a Ramada, Holiday Inn Express or Days Inn was not what we had in mind. Okay, the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort was a splurge, but was it ever worth it!

First some background information: The resort is privately owned by 96 year old Joseph Hardy III, who still has a home somewhere on its 2,000 acres. He leaves its day to day operation to his daughter Maggie, who also is the CEO of 84 Lumber, the source of Joe’s wealth. You can read all about Joe’s history in the lobby of the Lodge.

We stayed in The Lodge, one of several hotels on the property.

Well, not exactly ALL. You need to go to Wikipedia to learn that he had FIVE wives instead of the three the display fessed up to. His first marriage to Dorothy lasted more than 50 years, which means that from his 70’s until now, he made up for lost time by wedding 4 more lovely ladies. Three of his brides were in their 20’s, which made the 50 something woman he wed (wife #4) appear age appropriate. Unfortunately, THAT marriage went the way of the three before, and Joe’s last (possibly current?) Mrs. Hardy was under 30 when he married her. The display tells about his founding of 84 Lumber and its financial success, but somehow I find his marital history far more intriguing. Admit it, you probably do too.

Joe’s interest was not confined to women. He also was fond of classic cars, which are displayed in a “museum” on the property. Here are just a few of Joe’s toys. Notice the motorcycle? That is a replica of Peter Fonda’s wheels, built from parts of the motorcycles used in the movie “Easy Rider”. The Captain America helmet is perched on the back.

Right by the private airstrip is a hangar containing classic planes, including Steve McQueen’s, from a movie I didn’t see and don’t recall. Sorry. THAT museum was locked up, but if you have a burning desire to get up close and personal with those babies, you can call security from the phone helpfully placed by the entrance and they will let you in. We weren’t that curious, so the photo was shot through the window. I’m confident you get the idea.

Although there are many diversions to thrill children and teens, we didn’t partake in any of those.

Instead, we rode the “free” shuttle to the Frank Lloyd Wright “tribute” restaurant located in another hotel (each room at THIS hotel comes with your personal butler. If you are anything like me, you probably are wondering “what does the butler DO??? Hand you your slippers, floss your teeth? ). Lunch outside was lovely, but probably not worth the price.

The view from the outdoor restaurant

The walk back to our hotel, however was pretty delightful. In addition to stopping to visit the two museums, we enjoyed looking at the extensive sculpture collection scattered along the walkways.

My favorite thing, however, was our anniversary dinner. Pricy, yes, but very delicious and quite an elegant experience. Can you tell from the photos below which was the main course?

I chose the Wagu Beef, which is shown in the upper right hand corner. Makes one recall that commercial “where’s the beef”? Yes, I am old enough to remember both the original commercial and the political ad that used the phrase.

Enough about Nemacolin. I’m sure you’ve gotten the idea by now. ANOTHER big area attraction is Fort Necessity. I’m married to a man who never saw a fort that he didn’t love. Although this Fort Necessity isn’t very big, and is a replica of the original, the visitor’s center is fantastic.

I probably was taught this in either elementary or high school, but I had forgotten this fort was where George Washington started the French and Indian War. Here’s what happened: either the French or the British fired the first shot at Fort Necessity. The well done video makes it clear that each side claimed the other was the aggressor. What is important was the way the battle ended. The British had to surrender, and the terms were written in French, a language Washington didn’t understand. his translator wasn’t all that fluent either, and to make matters worse, it had been raining and the ink had run.

What Washington didn’t realize was that he had admitted to assassinating the French commander, and the rest is history.

One final note: if you are visiting the area, The Bittersweet Cafe is a great choice for breakfast. Don’t miss it!

California Dreamin’

I had started writing about Napa and Sonoma while visiting there in August.  I got distracted (which is not uncommon for me) and completely forgot about this post, leaving it to languish  in my drafts folder until now.

Since then, fire has destroyed parts of some of the areas we had visited.  Sadly, right now, southern California is also burning.

According to this Forbes article, the percentage of wineries damaged fortunately was low.  So, time to publish this lost post to remind everyone of the glories of California wine country.  Please visit, and bring your tourist dollars to an area that needs our support.  You’ll  have fun doing so–as we did last August.

My “lost post” follows:

It has become abundantly clear that our one and only offspring has become a Californian.  As with everything in life, there is an upside to having our son three time zones away.  We now have yet another reason to visit the greater San Francisco area.

So here’s the sad truth.  My memory is definitely NOT what It used to be.  I realized that I have been using my WordPress Posts as my memory bank, helping me to figure out where I was and when.  Unfortunately, I neglected to post about our past California winery trips–and was dismayed to discover that I couldn’t remember which ones we visited, and which ones were favorites, worthy of a return trip.  SO, this post is designed to correct that shortcoming.   If it is helpful to others that plan to visit wine country and the greater San Francisco area, so much the better.  It’s my way of giving back to all the generous bloggers and posters who offer travel tips, answer my questions on forums, share information on Trip Advisor.   Thank you!

Let’s start with the airport.  Whether you are renting a car, or taking mass transit, you will take the terminal’s elevator to the third floor, follow the signs for the skybridge and hop on the blue Sky Train.  That same train will take you to the BART and Caltrain, if you opt for that mode of transportation.  Last time, we took the BART.  As I vaguely recall, it was relatively easy to use the machines to buy tickets.  (Next time, I’ll pay attention and post about it.)  THIS time, we were heading to Santa Rosa, so we rented a car.  All of the rental car desks are at the same BART stop.

Note to self: Next time we rent a car, be sure to pre-register for the express option (or whatever the car company calls it).  We cooled our heels for about an hour waiting in line for our Budget rental.  Ah, the things you forget when you haven’t had an assistant arranging your business travel in almost six years!

For lodging, we did a mix of hotel and vacation rental.  In the past, I only used VRBO, and was very pleased with our selections.  This time, inspired by Janis over at Retirementally Challenged we decided to try AirBNB.  I had had the mistaken impression that with AirBNB you rented rooms in people’s houses.  In the past, the rentals I viewed had fewer photos than the rentals on VRBO.  As with most things in life, it is good to update your perceptions every now and then.  We were delighted with this beautiful little house in Santa Rosa.

living room

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For about $300 a night, we had a “serene, centrally located 1500 square foot”  2 bedroom, 2 bath house in a nice neighborhood in Santa Rosa, within walking distance of a few restaurants, a good wine store (that sold killer chocolate truffles) and close enough to the county fair grounds that you could sit outside and listen to the evening concerts, if you were so inclined.  We LOVED it!

Santa Rosa has more than its fair share of great restaurants. Our first night, before our son joined us, we dined at John Ash & Co.IMG_4910

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Parkside Cafe

The setting was lovely, with lots of windows, overlooking gorgeous gardens.  The food and wine were good, but was it worth $250 for 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, one desert and one bottle of not expensive wine?  The answer is a resounding “NO”!  Good thing our son wasn’t with us.  We would have blown our entire travel budget on that meal alone.  Fortunately, much better values were awaiting us.

Both the Parkside Cafe and Two Spinsters offered wonderful breakfasts.  We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch at LoCoco’s Cucina Rustica in downtown Santa Rosa.  But MY very favorite meal was at Francis Ford Coppola’s restaurant, Rustica, in Geyersville. (The Californians sure do like the name “Rustica”, don’t they?)

I opted for the Menu Di Stagione, which was 4 courses with paired wines for $69 (plus tax and tip). What a feast!  I started with gazpacho, followed by caesar salad, then this delicious  rack of lamb, ending with chocolate mouse.

as you can see from the glasses, I was having a hard time keeping up with the wine pairings

According to the menu, each course was accompanied by 3 oz. wine pairings, but my perception was those were very generous 3 ounces.  The only mistake we made was doing a wine tasting BEFORE lunch.  To say I was happy by the time the chocolate mousse rolled around, would have been an understatement.

We had never spent $90 for a bottle of wine, and after tasting this expensive stuff, I’ve concluded we aren’t missing much.

It was fun seeing the movie memorabilia.  In addition to photos, posters and other props, you can get up close and personal with the godfather’s desk.  Well, not too close.  You aren’t allowed to sit in his chair and put your feet on the desk.  Don’t ask how I know that.

The winery grounds are absolutely beautiful.  If you want, you can make a day of it, by renting a cabana and hanging out by the pool.  If you plan on swimming, it might be an excellent idea to wait till later for the wine tasting.

This is definitely a winery I’d visit again.  I’d just skip the tasting and go directly to lunch or dinner.  Speaking of dinner, after our huge lunch, we were all satisfied with a snack that night.

Our other favorite winery was actually one we had visited before.  I recognized it as soon as we arrived there.  Beringers has a fantastic tour of its winery.

We took it years ago and greatly enjoyed the experience.  THIS time, we just went for the tasting.  What we learned:  If you are a member of their wine club, (our son is)  the “basic” wine tasting is free for up to four people. 

Sadly, this tasting proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am indeed a peasant.  Can I tell the difference between $70 and $170 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon?  I cannot.  I can’t even tell the difference between their $48 bottle of wine and the $10 bottles we normally consume.

For our final evening, we switched from our airBNB to a hotel.  The River Terrace Inn, as the name suggests, is right on the river that runs through Napa.  It is ideally located–you can stroll along the path that hugs the river to the nearby CIA, where we feasted on a wonderful, and inexpensive dinner.  (That’s Culinary Institute of America, not the spy organization–although their food is probably delicious too.)

Yes, that big fork is made up of thousands of little forks!

Also nearby is Oxbow Public Market, site of the Kitchen Door Restaurant, which makes the most amazing mushroom soup on this planet.  That soup alone would justify a trip to Napa.

We didn’t make it to Mike’s favorite restaurant, the Rutherford Grill (in Rutherford, of course), but there’s always next time.  I hope there’s a next time (or a first time) in wine country for you too.