A Day and Night in Rotorua

From neon green lakes during the day to pool tables at night

So, this is my VERY LAST POST about New Zealand. I’m kind of sad about it, but you’re probably thinking Finally!

We spent our last day in Rotorua.

Rotorua is a rather interesting place. It’s what I imagine Earth must have been like during Dinosaur times.

Pockets of steams rising all over the place, volcanic craters, molten hot springs, neon green bodies of water, and a noticeable sulphur smell.

In fact, you can visit the Waitopo Geothermal Park park to see a concentration of all these ancient wonders in one place.

Walking around the park, you are greeted by many scenes of this…

It was hard to get a good shot of this lake which would do it justice.

The wind kept blowing steam into the picture. So, I’ll just describe it to you.

A two tone pool. A body of emerald green water surrounded by a bright orange ring, colored by the minerals in the water around the rim.

It wasn’t all just sulphur and steam though. The park also has beautiful walking trails through trees like this.

My favorite place in this park though was this bright neon green lake. Yes, it really is that color. Did you ever guess that hue existed in nature?

After walking around and contemplating prehistoric environment, we headed to our very special resting place for the night, the Hamurana Springs Lodge.

When researching this inn, I didn’t pay too much attention to the description. It just sounded like a decent place to stay.

But it ended up being my favorite stay of the entire trip.

This lodge was a bit out of town in the country side, sitting on its own estate surrounded by fields of horses. Once you turn into the road leading to the inn, you see the lodge perched up on a hill.

Then you drive down this wonderfully long path to the inn

Finally, you reach this cute old inn.

Once you’re inside, you’re greeted with all kinds of lovely views of the countryside

as well as portraits of local Maori tribespeople on the walls

Being there on a Thursday night, we had the random luck of being the only guests.

Not only did we have the run of the place, but we got so much specialized attention from the staff.

In fact, we joked that we felt like we were in an episode of Downtown Abbey. The staff tended to our every need, building a fire for us and stoking it through the evening, offering nice drinks, and so on.

We took advantage of all the lodge’s amenities including this beautiful fire place in a sitting room where we read books and drank wine for a few cozy hours. They piped in old fashioned jazz music and we felt like we had gone back in time to a different era.

Though I’m not skilled at pool at all, we also enjoyed playing a few games

That night, we slept so well, probably the best I slept the entire trip.

And the next morning, we went down to the dining room and were greeted with this nice breakfast. Fresh croissants. Cheeses and meats. Berries with yogurt.

After eating seconds and drinking a few cups of coffee, we spent a little time in our room just enjoying the view and feeling grateful that our trip to New Zealand ended on such a high note.

Richmond Getaway

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Sampling the ciders at Blue Bee Urban Cidery in Richmond

Last weekend, my husband and I packed our overnight bags and made a spontaneous trip to Richmond, Virginia.

Richmond is only about 90 miles away from us, yet we’ve only ever passed through the city on our way south. We spent our getaway exploring downtown and the old neighborhoods, visiting Museum of Fine Arts, and eating and drinking our way around the city.

Hope you enjoy the highlights!

Day One

Our first order of business on Day 1 in Richmond was food and drink, of course. We headed to the Naked Onion sandwich shop and got the famous Pork Belly Banh Mi (pictured above) and Manchego grilled cheese with red pepper coulis. These sandwiches were good and such a bargain as this take out place is a local cheap eats favorite.

From there, we needed a little refreshment and being cider fans, we visited the Blue Bee Urban Cidery. Since it was a cooler day, we sat inside one of the cozy stone walled tasting rooms. We’ll visit again on a warm day to enjoy the outdoor ambiance and the special hops and ice cream sandwiches they serve!

After lunch, we stopped in the famous Jefferson Hotel to admire the grand lobby with tall marble columns, burgundy walls, and portraits of presidents and snap a few photos. They serve a lavish brunch on Sundays and we made a note to return to enjoy that soon.

Next up was the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts., which houses some great collections. We particularly enjoyed the mummies and ancient Italian exhibits. In addition, the outside grounds are beyond beautiful and we were intrigued with the unusual sculpture of a head which changes from male to female depending on what angle you look at it.

At 4 o’clock, it was cocktail time, so we headed to The Rogue Gentlemen. This small dive bar serves the most interesting drinks, each labeled with its dominant characteristics (sweet/refreshing/citrus/herbal/bitter/smoky/etc ) so there’s little chance you can order wrong. My husband ordered something called “Vampire Kit to ward off the Vampire” made with garlic infused Oster Vit, Beckerovka, rum, and lime. I know the garlic part sounds a little bizarre, but I promise, it was surprisingly sweet and fresh tasting and not garlicky at all.

They can also custom create a cocktail just for you. I jumped at the chance and requested something herbal and refreshing and got this lovely rum, blood orange, and basil creation.

When in Richmond (or anywhere in the South, really), you must eat pimento cheese. So we couldn’t resist the jalapeño pimento cheese crostini platter. This restaurant also serves a tasting menu with each course only $12. This is such a bargain compared to prices in DC and we observed some really tasting looking things coming out of the kitchen, but we had other dinner plans at Burger Bach, so we stopped with our cheese platter.  (No picture, but our burgers were awesome too)

Day Two 

After a restful sleep, we made our way at 9 am to The Fancy Biscuit. When we arrived, there were nearly 50 people waiting in line ahead of us! Not ones to be deterred, though, we stayed in line. This is usually a good sign that the food is something special.

And it was so special! The Fancy Biscuit might be my favorite new restaurant.

They specialize in biscuits (hence the name) but not your plain biscuits with butter and grape jelly (though I don’t mind those either). These are biscuit creations with all kinds of toppings from goat cheese to collard greens to apple slaw.

We ordered two versions. One had pepper jelly, goat cheese, and fried chicken. The  other had a poached egg, ham, and Sriracha hollandaise. So good! Will definitely be trying to recreate these at home.

Our final stop on our Richmond itinerary was the beautiful Maymont Gardens. It was the perfect early Summer day for a walk in the park, and this one featured both Italian and Japanese gardens. This park was absolutely free and it was the best way to end our weekend trip to Richmond.

Feast in the Forest

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A few weeks ago, we attended Feast in the Forest, an annual fall harvest dinner at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. It takes place in the most beautiful location, a family owned farm out in the Virginia countryside.

All the food is locally sourced and some of it even comes from the forest trees… more to say about that later.

See our pictures from a similar farm dinner event we attended last year.

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The meal starts late afternoon with cocktail in the garden at the main house of the restaurant farm. The sweeping views of the valley looking out from there aren’t too bad, right?alice-and-olivia-dress

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After mingling with some of your new friends/dinner companions, you walk together down a long forest path to the dining area in the middle of the forest.

You sit at the long table next to people you’ve just met and share a family style meal. Usually, this is my favorite thing about events like this … you  always end up next to the most friendly and interesting folks.path-to-dinner-tableimg_1580lantern

The path through the forest is lined with these charming lanterns. By the time the evening is over, it’s almost dark and the lanterns give off the prettiest glow.

Now, on to the food.

Once the meal starts, the dishes start coming out fast and furious. I managed to get photos of a few plates, but when you’re sharing with others, it’s not all that polite to say, “Wait while I take a picture!”

The full menu is below. I had some really delicious things I’ve never eaten before, and as mentioned above, much of it was harvested from that very forest.

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These plates are the farro risotto (on the left, my favorite dish of the whole night) and the wood ear rice (on the right). Wood ear is a type of mushroom grown in that forest.first-courseBelow is the broccoli with frost grape and fresh chevre. This was pretty fantastic… I don’t know how to describe the frost grape sauce except it was like a plum flavored puree. The plate on the right side is crabapple bread with whipped cheddar and walnuts in the middle. second-course

Throughout the whole meal, I was keeping a list of my favorite dishes, but that went out the window when we got to desserts- chestnut macarons, the crabapple bread, and Paw Paw pie.

This pie was so delicious. It tasted like a cross between banana and mango pie with a drizzle of the caramel over it.dessert-plate

Never heard of Paw Paw before? Me neither.

It actually grows in long pods in trees. In fact, the chef harvested them from the very trees above our table in the forest.img_1595

Yes, we did some damage…

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The whole event was really lovely, but the real special part happened at the end.

When we got back to our car, we found we had a flat tire (drove over a nail on the path up to the farm).

But not to worry. So many people offered us help changing the tire, even the chef of the restaurant.

And while we weren’t paying attention, someone left us an entire to-go container of those chestnut macarons!