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Study Abroad

Platypus Wine Tour in Napa Valley

hat (also here) // dress // c/o Dagne Dover bag // mules // sunnies

Obviously, wine tasting in Napa Valley is a must, and the real reason everyone visits. But the valley is literally dotted with fantastic wineries. Figuring out where to start and which wineries should top your list can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, Emily had the brilliant idea of going on a wine tour our first full day in Napa. Wine tours are a great option because they are run by locals who know the region, take you to wineries that you may not have heard of (or are off the beaten path), and, the best part, you don't have to worry about drinking and driving.

We took our tour with Platypus Wine Tours. They were spectacular -- organized, well-run, and, most importantly, fun! We shared our mini-tour bus with four fabulous couples, who, thanks to lots of wine, quickly became our good friends. We visited a total of four wineries, all of which were quite generous with their tastings, and the ones at the end of the day were real generous... that's when things get a bit hazy lol.

Our timing in Napa was perfect without even realizing it. I should have know it was harvest time, since I participated in the harvest in Tuscany last September, but both Emily and I forgot until we arrive and found ourselves in the middle of the harvest.

We started our day of winery hopping at the Ruthorford Ranch winery. The best part about this winery is that they offer a wine and chocolate tasting! Oh, it was so yummy. Four wines paired with four amazing types of chocolate. Our next stop was the hipster Casa Nuestra winery, where we tasted tasty organic wines, had a picnic lunch, and played with their adorable goats. Casa Nuestra had a very cool, earthy vibe about it and they specialize in cultivating older grape varieties that are disappearing from the region.

Our third winery was the charming and laid-back Tudal winery. The Tudal estate is full of quaint little seating areas and communal games like giant Jenga and cornhole. After some fun and games, we headed to our last and most generous stop, Hopper Creek. This is where things got weird lol. Everyone was suddenly best friends and we ended up frolicking through the vineyards and taking a thousand photos. We really couldn't help ourselves, the wine at Hopper Creek was everyone's favorite. And we tried them all!

My only complaint about Napa is that the majority of the wineries grow French grapes and make French-style wines. Where are the Italian wines? I learned this past summer, through much trial and error, that I don't love French wines as much as I do Italian wines. Of course, this did not stop me from trying all of the wines in Napa.

In addition to touring smaller wineries, Emily and I also visited a couple larger, more famous estates (more on that next week). I think to really appreciate Napa and its wine, you need to experience both, and a wine tour like this one is the perfect way visit small and truly unique estates.

I highly recommend Platypus Tours if you are visiting Napa Valley (they offer Sonoma tours too)!

And you can read my tips for looking like you know what you are doing when tasting wine here.

Dissertating Sucks!

Ok, real talk. Full-time dissertating sucks.

Sure, I have been working on my dissertation for years now, but it was in small chunks -- a conference paper here, a blog post there, and lots of research and secondary reading to keep me busy.

Now, after years of preparation and build up, I have one job -- write a book. It is an incredibly overwhelming feeling. Years of research, work, and expectations staring back at you on that blank computer screen. I was not prepared for just how difficult it would be to spend all day, every day writing.

When your only job is to write, it is completely maddening when you can't. I was surprised that the words weren't coming to me. How did I have nothing to say? I have thought of nothing else for years! And no matter what I did, I felt guilty. Guilty for staring at a blank screen and guilty if I did other things.

Day after day I pushed on and forced myself to write something, anything. Each day got a little easier and before I knew it I had 40 pages. I am not saying these 40 pages were great, but it was a start.

Unfortunately, full-time dissertating is a sad and lonely experience. Making any real progress means devoting large chunks of time and focusing on nothing else. Since returning home from Italy, there were many days (some in a row) when I didn't get dressed or leave the house. I did make time to exercise and that has been a life saver.

Fortunately, after four weeks of dissertating alone in my apartment I left for California. It was just the change of scenery I needed. I have a residency at The Huntington Library and it is amazing here. It is like a dream come true for dissertators like me. A ridiculously stocked library, gorgeous grounds, and comfortable work spaces have already made me even more productive. I wish I could write my entire dissertation here!

It is still a long road ahead and I don't foresee it sucking any less. Everyone I commiserate with says it does not get any better you just have to keep pushing!

Not the most uplifting the post today, but it is the truth. What ever you're struggling with, just keep pushing!

Finally, if you have a friend or loved one dissertating, remember this is what not to ask them!

Hot Air Ballooning in Napa

dress (a steal) // jacket // sunnies (and here) // wedges

What's better than a hot air balloon ride? Hot air ballooning over Napa followed by unlimited mimosas and sparkling wine! I discovered my love of hot air ballooning last November in Cappadocia, Turkey. It is such an incredible and peaceful experience. When Emily mentioned she had never done it and we could balloon over Napa, it was a no-brainer.

Yes, hot air ballooning is pricey, but is absolutely worth it and usually includes a post-champagne-breakfast (it is a ballooning tradition to toast bubbly after a flight). We decided to go with Napa Valley Balloons and they were spectacular (well organized, professional, and fun). They pick you up from your hotel (warning, it is super early) and feed and caffeinated you before taking you out to the launch site. The blissful ride usually lasts about an hour. Our pilot Bob was a hoot (he had even ballooned in Turkey) and had some great one-liners. But, our personal favorite was "you can't drink all day, if you don't start in the morning!"

Bob made sure we were the first to launch and land so we could be the first back to the stunning Domaine Chandon and have dibs on the bubbly. We enjoyed a fabulous post-flight breakfast and lots of bubbles. Bob would not let our glasses get low lol. We also had a chance to explore the estate and take in the stunning scenery.

I will have to admit that the Napa scenery from the air was not quite as impressive as Turkey, but it was still stunning and worth doing it. But, you should also add Cappadocia to your bucket list, trust me!

PS - What do you think of these sunnies? These are the ones I exchanged my other pink pair for.