Tbilisi, Georgia

tbilisiTbilisi is the capital city of Georgia. It had never really been on my radar before moving to Ukraine and once we got there, it seemed like Tbilisi was the hotspot everyone was talking about. We were very excited to see it for ourselves!

Tbilisi was actually the last stop on our week long trip through Georgia. We had also visited Batumi and Borjomi prior to our couple days in the capital. Tbilisi has a character all its own. It’s old world and new world smashed together. It has a lot of charm and interesting architecture that I hadn’t seen in other places. The people we met were so friendly. It seemed like everyone wanted to talk, say hello, and smile at our kids. We even had waiters offering to hold our son and letting our daughter come walk around with them (within our sight, don’t worry). It was very fun and refreshing coming from Ukraine where the culture isn’t typically as outwardly friendly.

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We began our day at a playground at the Garden of the First Republic of Georgia around the corner from our hotel in Freedom Square. We needed to kill some time before the free walking tour we planned to take. We used to do free tours frequently before we had children and while our daughter was a baby, but attempting it with a toddler and a preschooler was going to be a little different. So we said we’d try it, go as long as we could, and part ways when the kids were done.

The tour took us into a wine shop as one of the first stops. Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. Their wine is distinctive from European wines because it is stored in clay pots as opposed to oak barrels. The wine shop sounded like they were very informative but honestly I missed much of what they were saying because…kids. My husband and I took turns waiting outside with the kids and going inside the wine shop to listen and taste.

 

We were also able to go see some churches, and then about an hour into the tour it was clear that the kids needed a break. So we tipped our guide and went to lunch. If you have never had Georgian food before, you are missing out! We hadn’t had it until we moved to Ukraine, but in Ukraine Georgian food is everywhere!¬†Some of the most notable dishes are khachapuri (baked bread with cheese, sometimes with an egg on top), khinkhali (large dumplings), and lots of different grilled meats. This is a very simplified summary of some of the food, there are so many dishes to try. If you happen to be in D.C. and want to try Georgian food, Supra is supposed to be wonderful. I’m sure it is triple the price of what you would pay in Georgia or Ukraine, but it is there if you can’t make the trip for the real thing!

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Government building with Mother Georgia (Kartlis Deda) statue in the background.

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Churches here have a very distinct look to them that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

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Our lunch stop, I always like a place where the kids can safely roam a bit.

After lunch we started wandering through the old town and eventually made our way over to the cable car station. The cable car will take you up in between the Narikala Fortress and the Kartlis Deda (Mother Georgia) statue.

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I loved Tbilisi’s architecture, especially the decorative porches.

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Before going up in the cable car, we bought the kids a snack to keep them happy. I think it worked ūüôā

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Family selfie in the reflection of the cable car station. Notice the kids are too busy with their popcorn!

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Views over Tbilisi.

When you get to the top it is a short walk over to the fortress or to the Mother Georgia statue. You will also find vendors selling fresh pomegranates, pomegranate juice, daisy crowns, and more.

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The small circles are bullet holes from when Russia invaded in 2008.

Upon heading back down the cable car, we decided to go over to Rike Park. I highly recommend this park, it was modern, clean, and was nice for strolling. If you have children, this is a great place for the kids to burn off some energy.

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Bridge of Peace in the back.

There’s also some good places for photos with the city in the background.

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Gotta love the enthusiasm from our daughter!

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On our second day in Tbilisi, we walked over to the puppet theater because I had seen it on Pinterest and I just had to see it in real life. We didn’t see a show and the tower isn’t an old tower, just built to look this way. But it does make for an interesting picture.Tbilisiabroadwife

From there we went to Dry Bridge Market. This was one of our favorite things about the trip, you have to go there if you get the chance! It’s a giant flea market and art market. There was so much to see, we ended spending much longer there than we originally planned. If you are into antiques or want to find a cool souvenir, go here! I’m sad to say I didn’t take any pictures! I felt awkward taking pictures of the goods people were selling so I kept my camera away. But I’m sure you can Google it and see some pictures of what I’m talking about! It wasn’t the easiest to get around with our double stroller so if you are bringing little kids, a carrier or single umbrella stroller would be best. We ended up bringing home two pieces of art from the market, and if I’d only had more room in the suitcase, I would’ve bought more!

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Something else we would’ve loved to do if we had more time would’ve been a day trip out to Kazbegi. There’s tour companies all over that will have a van bring you out to a number of different destinations. The trip to Kazbegi would’ve been an extremely long day and we had already had a couple long days of driving so we decided not to do it. But the next time we go to Georgia, that will be at the top of our list!

We really enjoyed our few days in Tbilisi. I loved visiting here because it has a totally different feel than the other European countries we’ve visited. We loved the warm culture, delicious food, interesting wine, and charming architecture. I have no doubt we will go back someday!

Sonoma Valley with Kids

Sonoma Valley-3When we first moved to Monterey, we talked a lot about all the nearby places we might want to visit. One place that came up more than once, especially when talking about friends coming to visit, was Napa Valley. At the time I was pregnant and the idea of going to wine country when I couldn’t enjoy the wine did not sound fun. Add the idea of chasing a high energy toddler around and I had pretty much written off the idea of visiting wine country during our time in California.

Fast forward several months: I’ve had the baby, we’re getting back into the groove of taking small trips, and we had the chance to visit one winery in Paso Robles. After our experience there went so well, I started to open back up to the idea of visiting either Napa or Sonoma Valley. Based on the advice of a couple friends from the area, we decided to visit Sonoma over Napa. ¬†Sonoma was described to us as being more mellow, more family friendly, more authentic (less touristy), and less expensive. ¬†All things that were music to our ears!

So after some planning, researching, and talking with our resident expert friends we set off on a long weekend in Sonoma Valley! Our first stop was not exactly in Sonoma Valley, but it wasn’t that far off. The Jelly Belly Factory is in Fairfield, California and is a working factory with free tours. Our daughter LOVES jellybeans, especially when they come in princess packages! We thought this would be something fun for her to do on a weekend where most of the activities would revolve around the adults wine tasting. The visitor center had a surprisingly long line for the tour which concerned me a bit. ¬†However, it moved fairly quickly and within 20 minutes or so we had started our tour. I stood in line while my husband entertained our daughter by looking around the gift shop and sampling jellybeans and fudge (yes they have a chocolate shop inside too!).

The tour starts out by handing everyone a Jelly Belly hat that must be worn inside the factory. ¬†Shockingly, our daughter did not protest said hat. You are then brought upstairs to look at several jellybean mosaics of famous people. Next you are walked over to a green screen and a model of Mr. Jelly Belly the jellybean for a family photo (for purchase after the tour). Then after a few more minutes of waiting and a sample jellybean, you are led into the factory to see where all the action is. ¬†If you take this tour, it’s best to be at the front of the group. We were toward the back and consequently could not hear some of the narration by our tour guide. Throughout the tour there are video monitors playing clips of information and videos, we also missed out seeing some of those because of our positioning. All in all the tour was fun, we enjoyed seeing the process of making the candies and seeing the shear quantities of jellybeans in production! My other recommendation for visiting is that you check the calendar, the factory itself is not in operation on the weekends and holidays. ¬†So if you tour when the factory is not operating, you will not see the machines running or anything being made. ¬†You will just see stationary machinery and the videos on the monitor.jellybelly

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A happy girl after getting her free bag of jellybeans after the tour!

From the tour, we drove a few minutes into town to a local Mexican restaurant for lunch. The Jelly Belly visitor center has a cafe that has good reviews on TripAdvisor, but we were in the mood for something different. After lunch we started our drive into the wine region. Our winery for the day was Larson Family Winery. A winery recommended on a few blogs as being good for families.¬†larsonwineryThe setup of the winery and tasting room was great for families. There was an indoor tasting room which led to an outdoor courtyard. It was enclosed enough that children were contained with still having room to let them wander a bit and stretch their legs. The winery also has three friendly labs roaming around looking for bits of shade to lay in or a dropped piece of food to gobble up. There were many picnic tables around and a large turf area with cornhole boards set up. The afternoon we were there a few other large parties of young, childless, singles were also visiting. The language was a bit colorful, and once the games of cornhole started, it became harder to keep our daughter out of the line of fire. So after our wine flight was finished, we didn’t waste time picking up and heading out the door.

We continued our drive to downtown Sonoma. There is a quaint square in the center of town lined with shops, tasting rooms, and restaurants. We happened to park in front of the Sonoma Cheese Factory, and spur of the moment decided to pick up picnic supplies there and walk them across the street to the park to let our daughter play. Sonoma Cheese Factory had everything we needed to make a tasty picnic dinner. We grabbed paninis, olives, cheese, grapes, and of course a bottle of wine! It turns out in Sonoma it is legal to sit at the park with a glass (or plastic cup) of wine! Our daughter played while we ate and sipped on a bench. It turned out to be the perfect way to do dinner that night.

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The next morning, we drove a few minutes down the road from our hotel to Lumberjack’s in Petaluma. This probably isn’t most people’s first idea of where to eat breakfast in wine country, there are certainly more gourmet, quaint, and refined places to eat. But the food at Lumberjack’s good, cheap, and portions were big. Just like the sign says, “where the big boys eat.” Go here if you’re looking for a quick diner style breakfast.

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I couldn’t resist making my husband take a picture in front of the sign! Hilarious (to me)! Also, jam packets make excellent toddler distractions.

Next up, we drove up Highway 12 to Landmark Vineyards. Along the way we passed several other wineries that looked like they would’ve been fun to visit. I had Landmark on my list of places to go because they do horse-drawn carriage rides on Saturdays. The property itself is very beautiful. The courtyard has colorful flowers, manicured shrubs, and a gorgeous aqua fountain. It felt very mediterranean to me.¬†It just so happened we ran into a lady from my running group who was also in Sonoma for the weekend with her family. We had intended to only be at Landmark for a short time before visiting another place, but because we ran into friends we ended up staying almost the whole day!

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The front entrance to Landmark Vineyards.

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Entertaining the little one while we sip wine.

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The stunning courtyard at Landmark.

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There was indeed carriage rides around the property!

By the time we left Landmark, our baby girl was in need of a nap and it was late in the day. So instead of pushing our luck and trying to drag her to another winery, we decided to take a scenic drive out to the coast. We drove River Road along the Russian River all the way out to Jenner and then down Highway 1 to Bodega Bay where we turned inland and headed into Santa Rosa. This was a beautiful, scenic drive. River Road was enclosed in trees with leaves changing color. We passed vineyards turning a gorgeous shade of gold. And once you get to the coast, you’re treating with ocean views and coastal scenery. We chose to stop in Santa Rosa for dinner so we could visit a place a friend of ours had raved about-the¬†Russian River Brewing Company. It is an award wining brewery with a line out the door to prove it. We waited in line at least 30 minutes just to make it inside to speak to the hostess. It was then another 30 minutes or so before we were seated at a table. It would’ve been shorter if we didn’t have the kids, but because we did we had to be seated in the dining room instead of the bar area. I should note that there is open seating on their patio out front if you can find a table. The wait didn’t bother us much though, luckily our daughter was in good spirits and the free garlic cheese bread seemed to satisfy her until we could order our pizzas. While it was family friendly, I don’t know if I’d make this place a priority¬†unless you have some serious beer enthusiasts in your family. It might be a place more suited for the kid-free population. ¬†Most of all, go early! The line is no joke!

The next morning we headed out to Forestville with the intent on visiting a nearby winery. However, plans got changed last minute but since we were there we stopped in at a cute outdoor patio restaurant called Backyard. This place was delicious! Every plate I saw come out looked amazing. They are known for their donuts and chicken and waffles, yes please!

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Sunday brunch at Backyard with mimosas, coffee, and princesses!

After asking our waiter for some advice on wineries to visit, we drove out to Iron Horse Vineyards. I was excited about this one because they are known for their sparkling wines which happen to be my favorite! Down a small one lane road littered with potholes, and up a hill sits Iron Horse. This vineyard¬†wasn’t really set up for young children. There weren’t many tables to sit at, and everyone seemed to be crowded around the outdoor tasting bar. I’m not sure if there was an indoor tasting room, if there was it didn’t appear to be open. It is also perched on top of a hill. Great views of vineyards, but no railings to keep curious toddlers from falling down the hill. There was also an oyster bar which my hubby would’ve loved, but we decided this wasn’t the place for us so we loaded up and headed out to the next stop. I would return here if I had a kid-free weekend though, it looked fun!

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Pumpkins overlooking the vineyard at Iron Horse.

Our next attempt was at Korbel. We had been told that the property there was very beautiful with gorgeous gardens. Korbel offers free tours of the cellar hourly and only a few times of day for the gardens. Since we had visited a few champagne houses in France, I had an idea of what the cellar tour would be like and it didn’t sound all that appealing to try and bring our restless two year old. We decided to walk over to the tasting room and see if there was a good area to sit and taste. There’s plenty of picnic tables outside, but there isn’t anyone to pour tastings for you should you choose to sit there. You can do complimentary tastings of up to four varieties inside the tasting room standing at the bar. Again, this wasn’t quite the set up we were looking for so we tasted one or two types of champagne and plotted our next move.IMG_3652

We noticed on the map that we were close to Rodney Strong. We had been given a bottle of Rodney Strong in Germany by a friend who grew up in Santa Rosa. And if you notice the picture from our picnic in Sonoma square, we bought a bottle for ourselves just a few nights prior. So we decided to just take a chance and go out to the property. We were very pleased when we arrived. This was just what we had been looking for. There was a terrace with an outdoor bar and large grassy area. We loaded up some snacks, diapers, toys, and a blanket and plopped ourselves right in the middle of that grassy lawn. The gentlemen at the tasting bar were kind enough to bring our pours out to us on the lawn and we were free to just relax and let our daughter play.IMG_3699 IMG_3708

We stayed until it was closing time about 5:00. Everyone enjoyed themselves. That evening we found a small Nepalese restaurant not far from our hotel. We gorged ourselves on naan, and then retired back to the hotel room to get a good night’s sleep for the drive back home in the morning.

We loved visiting Sonoma! It’s the kind of trip that doesn’t require a well laid out itinerary. Half the fun is coming and going as you please and just relaxing in a beautiful environment. Older kids may need some more entertainment than our young children. I wore our son in the baby carrier pretty much the whole time, and our toddler was content to run around open spaces, look at books, or watch a video on the iPad. We tasted some great wine, enjoyed the scenery, and relaxed with our family. All in all a wonderful way to spend a weekend!

Trip Recap:

Where we stayed-Hotel Petaluma, a historic hotel under construction in downtown Petaluma, the price was right, room was comfortable, but there’s no parking! Be prepared to carry your luggage!

Where we ate-Sonoma Cheese Factory (downtown Sonoma, paninis, coffee, ice cream, snacks, and wine), Lumberjack’s (Petaluma, inexpensive diner), Russian River Brewing Company (in Santa Rosa, award winning beer and decent pizza), Backyard (Forestville, lovely patio and delicious dishes)

Wineries we visited-Larson Family Winery, Landmark Vineyards, Iron Horse Vineyards, Korbel, Rodney Strong Vineyards

Paso Robles

A short 2 hour drive from where live in Monterey Bay is one of California’s best wine regions near Paso Robles. On a recent long weekend we were able to venture down to Paso Robles¬†and get a taste of the area.

After stopping at a friend’s house to drop off our stuff, we went straight to the town square of Paso Robles. It’s a small square with a park in the middle surrounded by tasting rooms, shops, and restaurants. We were persuaded by a couple of patio-sitting-patrons of Berry Hill Bistro to stop there for lunch and weren’t disappointed.

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Chicken “muggets” (as she calls them) for lunch.

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Paninis and asian slaw for Mom & Dad.

We started wandering the square after lunch. We were planning to take our daughter to get some candy at Powell’s Sweet Shop or an ice cream cone somewhere when our friend/host for the weekend suggested going out to one of the many wineries in the area. Because most of them close at 5:00 and it was already after 2:00, we scrapped the sweet treats and got in the car.

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Giving the bear a hug goodbye before leaving the square.

IMG_2532Through small, winding, two-lane roads and up a hill we arrived at Daou Vineyards. A beautiful view out over the vineyards awaits at Daou along with a gorgeous tasting room and relaxing outdoor space to sip your wine. There was also a bocce court outside for a little extra excitement with your tasting.

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Outdoor space at Daou overlooking vineyards and lavender.

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The tasting room.

My husband and I split a flight of 6 Daou wines. My favorite was the final one, the cabernet sauvignon which the winery is known for. There were also some food choices available for wine pairings.

I will admit that I didn’t plan to visit many, if any wineries while we were down for our visit. In my mind the family toting around 2 little ones was not the ideal vineyard visitor. I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to enjoy ourselves and our daughter had fun too! The outdoor space was key to her enjoyment (and therefor ours as well). She camped out at the fountain, playing in the water almost the whole time. Thankfully none of the employees or other guests seemed to mind too much. The only downside to this was the highly chlorinated water which ended up discoloring her dress. ¬†Oh well. You win some, you lose some.¬† IMG_3168IMG_3172IMG_2697Our afternoon gave us hope and encouragement that we could actually visit more wineries and enjoy ourselves. We are in the midst of planning a weekend in Sonoma, another famous wine region north of San Francisco. I think the art will be choosing the right wineries to visit! Hopefully we will have equally good experiences up there…stay tuned!

If we had more time in Paso Robles¬†I would’ve loved to spend some time at Jack Creek Farms and Tooth and Nail Winery which looks like a castle!

If you need more ideas for your own visit to Paso Robles, check out my Pinterest board HERE.