Weekend Wine Tasting In Paso Robles

Twenty years of anything is quite an achievement, but when we're talkin' about twenty years of a friendship that's seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, it's a feat that calls for an all-out celebration. So twenty years to the day that my best friend Cassandra's family moved into a new neighborhood and began two decades of adventures with the some of the most hysterical people I have the honor of knowing, 

we dragged ourselves out of bed at a 5am wakeup call and roadtripped to Paso Robles for a weekend of wine-tasting and shenanigans on the Californian coast.
The best part of the entire weekend was by far our bungalow that overlooked the cliffs in Cambria flanking the Pacific Ocean. We started and ended each day walking to the edge of the cliffs, listening to the waves crash and waving to sea otters popping their heads up from the rocks as they played and excitably pointing to dolphins leaping by. In the evening, we scrambled to change into our warmest sweatpants and watched the peaceful sunset before racing back to the house for homemade lasagna and birthday cake and raucous board games that had me laughing until my stomach ached (Loonacy is a crowd favorite).

It brought me right back to my own childhood when my family caravanned with the best of family friends to the North Carolina coast, where a humongous shared rental house was waiting for us to fill it with memories.
But of course, we cannot forget the wine!

Our itinerary included:

Epoch Estate Wines – very quiet, with plenty of outdoor seating and the cutest cat who walks around like he owns the place. Crisp, light, and flavorful wines. 
Venteux Vineyards – ah, this one was a favorite! While the wines were intense, the grounds were anything but. Wide, open lawns conducive for rounds of cornhole, a basketball court, and a pool! We unpacked a picnic of croissant sandwiches and broccoli salad and then headed towards the lawn chairs for a snooze. (No literally, we passed out for a solid thirty minutes, it was flawless.)
Castoro Cellars – one of my top two for wine! There was a very lovely Zinfandel described as having "hints of blueberry and graham cracker crust," and all I can say is: YAS. Castoro was also quite the beaut: lots of greenery, outdoor seating in the shade, very garden party. We even witnessed a wedding!
After Castoro, we called it a day and headed back to Cambria, all the while sipping peach champagne in the limo (I'm telling you, we went all. out.) and reminiscing over fond memories.

That night, after a delicious meal, a couple of birthday celebrations, and a false intruder alarm (we still don't know if it was the supernatural, a human up to no good, or our wild imaginations), the "kids" retreated upstairs for a glorified sleepover. Airbeds, couches, sleeping bags on floors – seriously, I felt like it was my ten year old birthday party all over again! Especially because our phones stubbornly proclaimed "No Service" all weekend long. I can't remember the last time I've been so content to be so disconnected from the world.
On Sunday, we were woken up abruptly by stern adults (see! still kids!) and creaky bones (eh, guess not) and were pointed in the direction of coffee and breakfast before promptly being shooed back into the limo for a second day of wine tasting.

First, we hit up Opolo Vineyards – my favorite from the trip! The fact that its owner is Croatian and there are Balkans paraphernalia plastered every which way you see was not a factor at all... nor was the devastatingly delicious cevapi that we can hardly find anywhere else. The surrounding vineyards provided a lovely accompaniment to a flight of lip-smackingly good and heady wines (by far my favorites of the bunch). Highly recommend!
Le Cuvier – a polished tasting room with a gorgeously rustic backyard that brought me right back to the rolling hills of Tuscany. Famous for its white wines, the Chardonnay was unlike anything we've ever tasted in the most wonderful sense. Accompanied by delightful bites to nibble on, if you wish.
DAOU Vineyards – the most picturesque of them all, it overlooks lush vineyards as far as the eye can see. Heaters and blankets warm you up right up when the breeze settles in. DAOU was by far the most expensive tasting, clocking in at $35 per flight, but at I can be convinced to live with that pricetag for another glimpse of this view.
Finally, our last stop was Kiamie Wine Cellarssuuuper casual and relaxed, it was where we picnicked with tortellini salad and fresh fruit on the second day. The yard is crowded with bohemian patio furniture, picnic tables, folk music and dancing, dogs running around begging for treats, and get this, a penned off area for their llama and goat. We watched as the goat sprinted this way and that playfully and stared down the llama as it glared at us from afar. Such a hoot!

I rounded up a few favorite items from Uncommon Goods, a company that believes in sustainability and being friendly to the environment without sacrificing uniqueness or style. After spending last weekend immersed in the loveliness of being connected not to WiFi but to the seashore and the winding hills and sprawling vineyards, I'm reminded now more than ever the impact that our small purchases can have and that we have to be conscious of how our actions can affect the beauty of our planet.

If I were to go wine tasting again (um, actually, it's a question of when) (probably in a month), I'd want to wear a simple T-shirt dress with this flowy kimono and literary quote scarf to protect from the downright CHILLY Cambria evenings. Or, if it's a warm day, I'd switch out the scarf for this pretty little thing. Ooh, and this embroidered wallet. I handed over my credit card and ID to Cassandra all weekend long because I couldn't be bothered to lug around a huge bag, but this wallet would do the trick in simplifying bulk while staying cute. 

For picnicking (which was an absolute pleasure under the sunshine), I'll be ordering myself this stunning blanket (imagine the Instagrams!), this nifty wine plate to keep my hands free and of course a charming basket to store all the goodies in! If wine-tasting isn't on your itinerary, you can still check out the coolest, cutest products to gift on birthdays as well (mine's in 11 months if you'd like to send me something from this right here). Or for Father's Day – dads are always such a toughie!
Sunday night, we flew out from the tiny San Luis Obispo airport and straight into a Monday that would bring us to Beyonce. A truly unforgettable weekend!
This post was brought to you in collaboration with Uncommon Goods. All opinions and thoughts are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

Sweet Sarajevo :: When A City Changes Your Life

I don't quite have the words to adequately describe Sarajevo. All year long, I've been scribbling down ones that come close, ones veering juuust short of deserving for such a place.

Among them: hopeful. Heartbreaking. On the cusp of past and present. Revitalizing. Lively, bursting with energy, radiating with spirit and strength and hookah smoke. Sadness that lingers. Incredibly packed with history: every corner, every footstep carries countless stories. Witness to the devastating, horrifying, helpless. Rising from the ashes. Visceral heartache. Resilient. Beautifully mixed in culture, religion, and ethnic groups. Humbling.

There simply aren't words in our language to describe the events that have transpired in Sarajevo, no possible way to convey the complexities. To fully understand, you'd have to visit. But until you're able to go up to your boss and be all "hey my girl Caroline says I need to peace out and explore Bosnia," I'll take you along on the adventures that we had during our two day sojourn.

After spending the day roadtripping through Pocitelj, Jablanica, and Mostar, we pulled right up to the Hotel Europe, one of the fanciest hotels in the city and a far cry from our worn down digs in Dubrovnik. Shrieking like middle schoolers, we jumped onto each other's beds, poking our heads out of the skylights to check out the view:
Peekaboo! I spy Justine and Malia!

Jaw-dropping, right? We took in the scene as the golden glow of the sun settled gently behind the mountains and the prayer call from the mosque reverberated across town. Absolutely mesmerizing.
At dusk, we wrangled a few members of the crew and set out to meander the area surrounding the hotel: we strolled down the "West" side with the Austro-Hungarian influences and the modern lights and shops, quietly took in memorials set in place to honor the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica, gazed at building facades still mired with bullet holes. We weaved our way through the busy maze-like avenues of the "East" side of town where Ottoman roots are apparent and made our way to the bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot, effectively sparking World War I, or so the story goes.
The next day, after a riveting morning lecture about the psychology of reconciliation in Bosnia, we set out on a private tour of the city. Our tour guide greeted us, apologizing for the heat, which we promptly scoffed at because Sarajevo was practically chilly compared to Mostar or even Dubrovnik.

She led us primarily through the East side of town, Baščaršija, ducking into peaceful courtyards that hosted colorful shops full of Turkish lamps and handwoven rugs:
(If you're wondering if I managed to bring home a rug in a tiny carry-on suitcase that also housed a wardrobe that lasted me two months...)

(Yes I did.)

(But I had to leave behind my graduation dress in order to do so.)

(I don't regret it for a second.)
Popped into City Hall and observed the intricate ceilings and the exhibit in the basement that chronicled significant moments of Sarajevo's history.
Admired the handiwork lining the sides of the Copper street, oohing and ahhing over the Bosnian coffee sets and various other little treasures.
Crossed the "Meeting of Cultures" dividing line between the more traditional eastern side of town and modernized western side.

Toured the carefully preserved home of a merchant:
Aaaaaand were rewarded with hearty borscht, meat pies and cheese pastries and lots of cabbage salad. Although cevapi was still our absolute favorite meal in the Balkans, it was quite the treat to be able to taste different variations of Bosnian cuisine.
The plaque marking the spot where Franz Ferdinand was shot.

Gives you goosebumps, doesn't it:
*Deep breaths*

So. Later that afternoon, we all trudged over to the History Museum of Sarajevo for a lecture. It was tough. The class dragged on, we watched sobering footage from the siege, listened to tales that had us shaking our heads at the loss of humanity in times of war. There was no air conditioning in the dark room, our sticky thighs were slipping on the plastic chairs, a few of us felt our eyelids fluttering close after such a heavy meal.

We were then introduced to a lovely young woman, a museum curator, only two or three years older than us. She took us upstairs and explained that the "museum" was so incredibly rundown due to a lack of funding. It is not a priority for Bosnia to preserve memories from the war because... well, because it hurts to. She showed us makeshift stoves hacked together from soup cans, pointed out how to make a scarily small portion of food last multiple meals. Here are illustrations of the luxuries that kids missed the most:
We asked her a few simple questions: how old were you during the war? Were you here?

Teardrops pooled in her eyes, and we stopped prying abruptly.

It's still painful to think about, she said. For her, these artifacts represent a very real part of her past. For four years, she spent her day to day suspended in fear because she didn't know if her friends were dead or alive. She figured out in time which corner in the apartment was safest from the snipers shooting without abandon from the hilltops. She survived four years wondering why no one was coming to save them from such brutality, terrified each time someone left the house to fetch a can of water or to buy a loaf of bread that it would be the last time she saw them.

We apologized for being insensitive, thanked her for her memories, and left the museum, silenced. We walked home with heavy hearts, stopping only to buy some water in an effort to cut the tension.

"Sarajevo roses," which mark the places where grenade blasts killed children:
Our first day in Sarajevo, we begged our professors to extend the stay. It is an enchanting city with so many things to see and taste and hear and learn.

After those hours in that museum, our perspectives shifted. Suddenly, we felt like outsiders who had unintentionally forced both the city and its people into a fishbowl. For weeks, we were deep in the trenches of analyzing the war, the causes and the effects. Unknowingly, we had weaved together a narrative for Sarajevo, subconsciously insisting on having concrete 'why's and how's' when actually, the only truth that mattered was,

There was a war, it was incredibly sad and incredibly complicated. People suffered. Terribly. And they're still learning how to recover today. That's it. 
Desperately needing to lighten our moods, we took a dip in the gorgeous pool, followed our noses to sizzling cevapi, and then congregated for some midnight Bosnian tea. Not too long after, we retreated to our hotel rooms, deep in thought.
For our final morning in Sarajevo, we were privileged enough to talk to author Aleksander Hemon about his experiences, before shuffling into the Venetian cafe where Archduke Franz Ferdinand had his last meal, to sip some cappuccinos and chat about all the things we felt and learned and discovered. 
(Well of course, we raced off for one last round of cevapi before boarding the bus home.)

Sarajevo is a city that changed my life. At a point in time where I felt so sure I knew all of the answers, where I felt so confident in at least my worldview and the fact that being a bearer of a newly minted psychology degree meant I must understand the way the world works and the way humans function, Sarajevo was a slap in the face.

It will forever be a reminder that I won't ever understand fully this world and our race and the 'why,' but that what is important is to be relentless in seeking that which I don't understand anyway.
ICYMI: roadtripping to and from Sarajevo.

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