Isn’t it funny how certain places exert an especially strong pull on your heart?
As much as Bill and I love traveling to new destinations, there are some extra special places that draw us back again and again. We feel a heightened sense of belonging, like we’re home.
Charleston and nearby Kiawah Island in South Carolina are two such spots. So is Paris. I can’t conceive of us saying that the next visit will be our last.
There’s a compelling dichotomy at work. Each time we visit those destinations, they exude as fresh and promising an air as the first because there are always undiscovered adventures waiting. On the other hand, there’s the immediate sense of comfort that comes from familiarity.
On our list, too, is Sonoma County. We had made multiple short trips prior to our decision to live there for six weeks last summer in the town of Glen Ellen. Our extended stay in this diverse region’s Mediterranean-like climate, where we took in world-class wineries, restaurants, and artisan food producers, ancient redwood forests, expansive dairy farms, and the soaring, rugged coastline, convinced us we needed a repeat in 2014. Now we’re back. Kenwood, just north of Glen Ellen, is our base.
Kenwood is situated in the northern end of Sonoma Valley along Highway 12, about halfway between the towns of Sonoma and Santa Rosa. In the late 1800s, the railroad played a major part in Kenwood’s development. The tracks are long gone, replaced with vines, but the old stone train depot still exists as a historic landmark.
Kenwood’s commercial district is one-stoplight small with some iconic establishments.
Café Citti, a rustic trattoria, serves a killer roast chicken, pizza, and lasagna, and has become our choice for Friday Night Date Night. A row of colorful art pieces fashioned from recycled metals in the shape of animals and birds and looking as if they’re gathered for a gabfest lines the front fence of Swede’s Feeds. The owner of Figone Olive Oil Co. hand makes mozzarella, often infusing it with herbs. Muscardini Cellars sells some nice Italian-style wines and locally made Boncora triple chocolate biscotti, my new indulgence. We’ve lunched al fresco on the piazza at VJB Vineyards and Cellars.
The landscape is incredibly appealing – an endless patchwork of vineyards, the vines of ripening grapes neatly ordered like a regiment of soldiers obediently standing in ramrod formation.
The mountain vista a block away is especially scenic – so much so that one day we encountered art students doing location painting under the tutelage of Dr. Craig Nelson of San Francisco’s Academy of Art University as part of his Sonoma Plein Air Painting Workshop.
We’re staying in the charming Silvermoon Cottage that Bill located on airbnb.com, our go-to website for rental properties around the world. The furnishings are simple and modern (just our tastes), and the kitchen is the best equipped of all the properties we’ve rented. When you travel with only your clothes, toiletries, and devices (iPhone, iPad, laptop), and you live in rentals, you’re quite dependent on what’s provided.
The shelves are filled with intriguing food, wine, and travel magazines and books. The back terrace is beneath a vine-topped trellis set amid redwoods. Monique, who owns Silvermoon Cottage, urged us to help ourselves to the bounty from her garden’s tomatoes, herbs, and fruit trees.
Our decision to pursue extended-stay travel stems from wanting to become more immersed in an area. We’re certainly not forsaking travel of shorter durations, but in select locales we want to live more like residents (albeit short-term ones) and less like quick-hit tourists.
To shop for seasonal produce at the farmers markets (one sets up in the little park across the street on Sundays) and prepare meals, drop off laundry at the dry cleaner, attend a concert or visit a museum, hike, and explore historical sites. Equally important is not feeling compelled to fill our days with activity because we have the luxury of more time – Scarlett O’Hara’s “Tomorrow is another day” outlook. Bill calls it “Just living.”
While Bill and I thrive on each other’s company, we also want to meet and form attachments with those who really live here to enrich our travel experiences.
We have a leg up in that regard, given long-time friends Penny and Gil live in Santa Rosa. We’ve gotten together for a lawn picnic and Tony Bennett concert (forever young at 88, the man still rules) at the amazing Weill Hall at Sonoma State University. Other events have included hosting them for games of boules and a cookout, Friday lunches at Underwood Bar and Bistro in Graton, brunch at Rocker Oysterfeller’s (great name for a restaurant that features seafood) and a hike on Shell Beach at Sonoma Coast State Park.
Through them we’ve met Bob and Sissy, proprietors of Gourmet au Bay, the only waterfront wine bar in Sonoma County. Stopping there to wine surf – that is, sampling three wines served on a mini surfboard – is always a must-do.
On our first day walking in our neighborhood, we encountered Sallie and Chuck picking blackberries. We heard their disembodied voices saying hello, but couldn’t see them through the tall, thick brambles. They joined us on the street for a quick welcome, and we’ve since savored glasses of wine on their terrace as they regaled us with stories of their own world travels.
We also met Jeff that day. At his suggestion, we attended the evening’s outdoor concert at Landmark Vineyards by two performers from Transcendence Theatre Company. Dorothy, who also happened by, lives in the oldest standing house in Kenwood, circa 1870s. Monique and her partner, Glenn, invited us to a wine tasting at Chalk Hill and their place for dinner. They served a luscious coq au vin and just-then picked vegetables from their garden with stellar local wines.
And, in a totally surprising development, we experienced our first earthquake in California. It woke us up from a sound sleep at 3:20 this morning. The ground shook, rattled, and rolled for maybe 15-30 seconds. We didn’t know that beds could surf! Registered at 6.1, the epicenter was about 30 miles from here. We’d actually gone through a small earthquake in Charlotte several years ago, which was nothing like this. News reports say it was the strongest quake in the Bay Area since the 1989 “World Series” one. Even the locals are “shaken” by the intensity. Unfortunately, the town of Napa was hard hit.
Happily, we’re fine, but it sure was a weird, helpless, scary sensation. Guess this makes us honorary Californians.