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Tim Foolery

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Wine Tasting in Mendoza – Uco Valley

Planning the Tasting

The main reason we decided to visit Mendoza was for the wine.  We wanted a full day of tasting and we didn’t want to end up at the big producers – we wanted to see smaller operations.  Two months before our trip, I started reaching out to various wine tour operators and was very disappointed.  Of the six groups, only one ever responded to my several emails.  I found these tour guides through general internet searches and through TripAdvisor.  The one who did respond offered us a tour option that wasn’t a good fit.  Their suggested tour included a large 45+ person tour bus.  We wanted a more curated experience.

I then reached out to the Park Hyatt Mendoza for guidance. Within the hour I had received a quick questionnaire to help tailor my experience.  The following day I had received a proper quote for a private tour including driver/guide and vehicle.  The tastings and meals were separate and would be paid at each stop.

The price for this experience was AR5270 or 137USD.  Considering the alternatives, this was a really great option. A much better fit than the massive tour bus option.

The Tour

The day of the tour arrived and we met our guide in the lobby of the Park Hyatt.  Our guide was a retired energy consultant who spent most of his career acting as a mining consultant in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.  He was a round and jovial man, who laughed with nearly every sentence he spoke.  He was welcoming and very knowledgeable about the region, its history and the people.  Like many people we interacted with in Argentina, their dislike of Bolivians wasn’t hidden.  I was taken aback by the near immediate and frequent racist comments about Bolivians.  It was awful.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The breathtaking views of the Andes

As we left Mendoza, our guide told us of the history of the region, including the original Spanish settlers and the more recent Italian and German immigrants.  Our first stop was a gas station about 20 minutes outside of town – we needed to get water, lots of water for the day.  Because of the altitude, the temperature and the relative dryness of the area, we were quite parched.  Plus an entire day of drinking wine wouldn’t help us in that regard.

We continued on to our first destination in the Uco Valley.  We chose Uco as we really wanted to step outside of the city and being only an hour away, it wouldn’t eat up a large portion of our day just getting there. 

La Azul – Tasting

Our first stop was La Azul.  A small family producer that greeted us very warmly upon our arrival.  This wasn’t a tiny producer – there were several other tasting tourists there.  We sat down with a group of Americans, who were also staying at the Park Hyatt Mendoza.  It is such a small world. The guy who sat in front of my on the flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza was part of this group.  He was much nicer today, when he wasn’t slamming his seat into my knees.

We worked our way through a couple of tasting with a member of the winemaker’s family. She was a bit robotic and on autopilot, but she was able to provide us some fun details on the wine, the vineyard and production. 

After tasting a few bottles we moved on to their production facility where we were able to do a barrel tasting.  This was definitely more for show and offered no real substance, but it was fun nonetheless.

We enjoyed the wine at La Azul and picked up a few bottles to take home.

Gimenez Riili – Tasting and Lunch

Our next stop was Gimenez Riili.  It took us about 40 minutes to travel between the vineyards.  Again, like at La Azul we were greeted very warmly – like old friends.  Perhaps it’s because our guide did indeed know everyone we were meeting with.  By extension we were family.  As with any proper family visit, you should be greeted with some sparkling wine, right?

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying the sun while we wait for lunch.

The views at Gimenez Riili were utterly spectacular.  The Andes Mountains looming like giants in the distance.  Purple mountains majesty never felt so real than in this moment.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bottles all prepped for our lunch tastings
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Prepping plates for lunch at Gimenez Riili.

Our tasting was also our lunch for the day.  We dine alfresco at small tables under trees in the vineyard.  This meal reminded me so much of our time at IPNC.  Honestly, even the Argentine weather in November reminded me much of Oregon in July.  The sun baking down on our skin, dry, but not drying.  It was one of those battery recharging moments for me.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Enjoying bubbles while the beef ribs cook

The Meal

The meal was spectacular. Not surprising, but it was a very meat centric meal.  Our slow and casual lunch was filled with beautiful wines, stellar views and such warm and welcoming service.  The food was no slouch either.  We ate and ate. 

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The alfresco table setting at Gimenez Riili
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Starter spreads for our lunch tasting
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
River Trout ceviche with mustard
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Bring on the meat!
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
A simple, yet flavorful pot de creme for dessert

The one complaint I do have was the timing. I do love a slow and casual meal, but this was a bit extreme.  The service fell off a bit and at one point our dessert was delivered before our entrée.  We had another vineyard to visit before the day ended and the slowdown here was starting to impact our plans.  A quick reminder of timing and plating helped get us back on track.  Honestly, I could have stayed here all day, eating, drinking, relaxing, but not if we’ve got another vineyard to visit.  Chop Chop.

Corazon del Sol – Tasting and Tango

We picked up a couple of bottles at Gimenez Riili as well and quickly headed off to our final stop of the day.  As we arrived at Corazon del Sol, the sun was hovering over the Andes and providing such a warm embrace, I couldn’t have been happier.  We sat outside and listened to a local tango group.  Tango. Spanish Guitar. Flamenco.  I loved it.  As we lounged outside we were given some rosé.  This part of the tasting was purely entertainment. We were given no guidance on the wine. We were to site back, bask in the glory of the Andes and let the music flow.  It was so relaxing.

Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
The sun blazes down upon the vines.
Mendoza Argentina Wine Tasting
Tango performance at our final tasting

After the concert we made our way into the tasting room.  Our friends from the flight, and the first winery ended their tour at the same winery as we did.  We ended up chatting with them a bit more during the proper tasting.  There wasn’t much of a program at Corazon del Sol.  It seemed more like a mad rush for them to pour wine and make sales.  We didn’t end up buying anything at this stop.  There were a couple of items that we really did want to buy, but nothing was available at that time.  The next vintage would be released soon and we could order and have it shipped home.  We opted not to do that.

End of Day

We hopped back into our guide’s Jeep and made our way back to the Park Hyatt.  Our tour of the Uco Valley took about 7-8 hours and was absolutely worth every penny we spent.  Not only was the landscape breathtaking, the wine stellar and the winemakers so welcoming, the weather was perfect.  Closing out November in the southern hemisphere allows us to kick winter down the road a little bit. 

While the initial planning of this day was quite frustrating – I guess these tour companies have so much business they can turn down customers – I’m so pleased with the help that the Park Hyatt gave us.  Our guide – despite his blatant racism – was a generous and welcoming host.  The price was perfect for what we received – we would have HATED to been on a tour bus with 40 other people, making our way through the factory style wine tasting rooms.

Have you visited the Uco Valley before?  Which wineries are your favorite?  When we return – and we shall – where do you recommend we visit?

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Open House Chicago 2018: Beverly / Morgan Park

Open House Chicago is one of our favorite weekends each year.  If you are unfamiliar with this event, take a look at their website for all the details.  High Level:  250+ public and private spaces are open to the public over a weekend in mid-October each year.  You’ll see everything from private clubs, to corporate offices to modern factories.  Have you ever wanted to see what the Groupon offices looked like?  What about a luxury hat manufacturer housed in an old fire house?  Well, you can with Open House Chicago.

2018 marked the eighth year of this event in Chicago and the idea has spread all over the world with more than 40 cities participating.  Each year, we decide to venture out of our known areas and explore an unfamiliar neighborhood (unfamiliar to us, that is).  This year, we ventured out to Beverly / Morgan Park on the far southwest side of the city. Having never really explored this area, we were very excited to welcome a new neighborhood not only into our lives, but into Open House Chicago.

Photo Journal of Beverly / Morgan Park

LaSalle Street Train Station Chicago - Headed to Open House Chicago

Hopping on the Metra Rock Island for a quick 20 minute ride down to Beverly for Open House Chicago

Morgan Park Academy

Morgan Park Academy

Morgan Park Academy

Beautiful Tiled Roof of Morgan Park Academy Alumni Hall

The grand entrance to Morgan Park Academy Alumni Hall

The grand entrance to Morgan Park Academy Alumni Hall

Morgan Park United Methodist Church

Morgan Park United Methodist Church

Morgan Park United Methodist Church

The stained glass dome at the Morgan Park United Methodist Church

Morgan Park United Methodist Church

The parlor at Morgan Park United Methodist Church

Ingersoll-Blackwelder House

Ingersoll-Blackwelder House

The Givins Castle

The Givins Castle

The Givins Castle

The Givins Castle

The Gravier-Driscol House - Ridge Historical Society

The Gravier-Driscol House – Ridge Historical Society

Beautiful Homes in Beverly Chicago

Beautiful private homes, not part of the tour.

Beautiful private homes, not part of the tour.

Beautiful private homes, not part of the tour.

107th St / Beverly Hills Station - Metra Rock Island Train

107th St / Beverly Hills Station – Metra Rock Island Train

Taking only public transit and walking, we made our way through every site in Beverly (we didn’t photo all of them though), grabbed a great lunch at the Horse Thief Hollow (104th/Western) and a beer at the end of our trip.  The weather was spectacular, the people were welcoming and the neighborhood was beautiful. If you haven’t explored Beverly, go do it. It’s a beautiful place.

Have you explored Open House Chicago (or another city)?  What are your favorite sites?  Do you have any tips and tricks for people?

Let’s Go Singapore Bike Tour

When visiting a new city, I love to hop on a bike tour.  Seeing a city by bike is seeing it like a local. Living life like a local.  You feel the pulse of the city and can truly experience the vibrancy.  With only 68 hours on the ground a Singapore Bike Tour was in order.  First off, I had to find a knowledgeable, local guide and jump on a bike.  It was clear, after just a few searches, that Let’s Go Singapore was the right company to lead me around this City.

After sharing an awkward breakfast at the M Hotel, I hopped on the train and made my way to the Let’s Go Singapore offices.  Arriving 30 minutes early for the tour, I sat outside and organized plan for the post tour afternoon.  The tour was small, just me and two young German tourists.  It can make for an amazing trip when you have a small group of fit tourees.  I’ve had some overcrowded bike tours with people who haven’t ridden a bike in years (like our tour in Barcelona) and it just kills me.

Singapore Bike Tour

Let’s Go Singapore – Fully Stocked for a Bike Tour

Singapore Bike Tour

Let’s Go Singapore is opening a cooking school too. After your bike ride, you can make traditional Singapore cuisine!

The Tour

After adjusting our bikes and getting a brief rundown of the plan, we headed out.  Our guide was really excellent.  First off, he told us the rules of the road in Singapore.  Who has the right of way and how to interpret his directions throughout the ride.  And we’re off.

We moved quickly throughout the City, visiting some major sites, plus places that normal tourists likely wouldn’t see.  We visited places that tourists wouldn’t find on their own either.

Singapore Bike Tour

The Formula One Track in Singapore – Used by the citizens when not racing season

Singapore Bike Tour

Our tour group, posing on the F1 Track

Singapore Bike Tour

Marina Bay Sands from the Singapore Bike Tour

Singapore Bike Tour

Three bike tourees in front of the three towers of Marina Bay Sands

Singapore Bike Tour

Riding away, early in the tour. Singapore’s National Stadium looms ominously in the background.

Singapore Bike Tour

The Gardens by the Bay Arboretum

Singapore Bike Tour

The Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel

Singapore Bike Tour

Love the greenery built into the architecture all throughout Singapore

Singapore Bike Tour

Closing out the tour near the Mosque

Singapore Bike Tour

I’m really not upset, despite the angry look on my face!

Singapore Bike Tour

Riding away, early in the tour. Singapore’s National Stadium looms ominously in the background.

Singapore Bike Tour

Singapore Bike Tour

The vibrant dining area near the mosque.

Singapore Bike Tour

Colorful Haji Street in Singapore

The day we toured was a little overcast, with a constant threat of thunderstorms.  You can see the cloudiness in the photos, they are not as crisp and clear as I’d like them to be.  Midway through our tour, we had to stop and take refuge in a shopping mall.  Shopping malls are ubiquitous in Singapore and we were thankful for that when it started to rain.

The tour lasted about four hours, plus a bit more because of the rain delay.  This was an active tour, but not a strenuous effort.  I really enjoyed every part of this tour and can’t recommend it enough.  For S$80 ($58USD), I defy you to find a more knowledgeable guide and more fun tour.

No matter how much time you’ve got to spend in Singapore – but especially if it is only 68 hours – seek out Let’s Go Singapore and get to know the city.  While I’m sure all the guides are great, Alfie was really phenomenal.

Do you take cycle tours when on vacation?  What better ways do you have of getting to know a new city in such short order?  What other tour would you recommend in Singapore?  Have you used Let’s Go for a Singapore Bike Tour?

68 Hour Visit to Singapore – Introduction

I’ve always wanted to visit Singapore. Really for two main reasons 1) the mix of cultures blend together for some amazing food and 2) the infinity pool at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The stars and the moon aligned and made a trip this year possible. I had already taken a good portion of my vacation time, so I needed to plan judiciously. If I’m taking a quick trip to Asia, I want to fly in a premium cabin which will likely necessitate the use of miles.

First of all, I spent a couple of days of searching for award fares with no luck.  Eventually I found Star Alliance Saver Awards that worked out quite well. Unfortunately I’d be trying out only one new airline: Singapore Airlines for a relatively short hop from Singapore to Bangkok. The other four flights would all be on airlines and products I’ve flown before. That being said, I really loved these repeat products and was looking forward to experiencing their service again.

Over the next few weeks, you can look forward to the following detailed posts about my trip.

Visit Singapore Gardens by the Bay

Singapore by night

You’ve read my thoughts on the preferred length of trips and I know so many people would think I’m nuts for flying so long for such a short period in Singapore. but remember, life is about the journey, not necessarily the destination (hell at the end of the day, we all end up in the same place, might as well enjoy the ride).

Would you go to Singapore for 2.5 days on the ground? Am I crazy? What has been your craziest trip you’ve planned?

Ghent by Bike

Exploring a new city is best done by bike, don’t you think?  This holds especially true for a city like Ghent that has more than 400 km (248 miles) of cycling paths and more than 700 one-way streets where bikes can travel in both directions.  While the city of Ghent may not be as well known as a cycling city as Amsterdam, but is a huge part of the Ghent lifestyle.  I mentioned that our 1898 Post Hotel was surrounded by car-free streets – you’ll only find pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and trams.

We’ve had some amazing bike tours in ParisLondonBarcelonaMexico CityVietnamShanghai, South Africa, and Bruges. Most of these tours have been spent with us riding to, from and between some of the most famous sites in the area.  We’ve seen Notre Dame, Big Ben, the Gothic Quarter and the Bund on these rides, but in Ghent it was a little different.

First off, we didn’t book this tour until we were a day away from Ghent.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I was booking this tour while we walked around the Flanders Field American Cemetery on Memorial Day.  I found Bike Ghent on TripAdvisor and was impressed with the reviews.  Unfortunately the website wasn’t working properly when I tried to book, so I shot the owner, Christophe a quick email, which he responded by calling me back almost immediately.  He had another private tour planned for the day I wanted, but he offered to try to reschedule the previously booked tour, which was quite surprising.  He called back a few minutes later – SUCCESS.  Instead of meeting at his normal pickup point, we’d meet at the main train station.

Instead of touring the main historic cites, which are all centrally located in Ghent, Christophe took us around different parts of the city that tourists usually don’t see.  We left the station and traveled to Citadel Park, where Christophe told us that it was a pretty popular gay cruising park – a strange non-sequitur.  We continued along bike paths and main arteries learning the history of the area and how Ghent is transitioning into a modern 21st century city with co-work spaces and tech hubs.  The university system is large and diverse driving additional innovation.

The real focus of our tour also included the amazing street art scene in Ghent.  It was vibrant and diverse.  The murals were inventive added a fun level of whimsy to this urban space.  There was even a practice area near the old port where taggers can practice their trade, which was great to tour.  I was really digging the art – but if I had read this was a street art bike tour, I wouldn’t have signed up for it, but I’m so glad I did.

When you visit Ghent, do yourself a favor and call Christophe (the owner operator) of Bike Ghent, you won’t be disappointed.  He has a wealth of knowledge and makes the ride really fun providing a view of the city that you can’t get on your own.