Wine-ing about leaving: Michigan

Currently writing this from a plane en route to Abu Dhabi, 35 hours until I FINALLY land in Bangkok!

This past week has been full of ~fun~ goodbye festivities, including a mini-road trip to Michigan with some of the home gals to wine taste, courtesy of my eternally sober and top notch DD, Mama O.  We’re basically 40-year-old soccer moms in training, we turn up for these types of semi-classy soirees.  Mama O came up with the idea and volunteered to drive as a final way to spoil me before she’s deprived of taking me shopping for a year, talk about mother of the year.

A little less than a 2-hour drive from Chicago, Michigan is chock full of wineries and strawberry farms.  A hidden gem, it’s the secret Napa Valley of the Midwest.  And I really mean hidden gem, my parents have been coming here for years, but we only knew about it because of family in the area.  Right now most of the people that go to these wineries are the bored elderly on bus tours and Chicago-based bachelorette parties, but I predict that it’ll blow up with tourists in 10 years.

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There’s a Michigan wine trail that covers the WHOLE STATE.  Back in the day a couple years before I turned legal (as in like 3 years ago), these wineries actually did all their tastings for free.  That’s right.  FREE.  Like you could go and get plastered on top notch vino without dropping a penny.  However, due to the ever increasing popularity of the area, mostly by word of mouth, you now have to pay a couple bucks per tasting, ranging from about $6-$15 depending on the winery.  Lacking time and liver capacity, we decided to stick to the closest southwest region this time around.

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We started our post-grad tour de not Franzia at Lemon Creek winery.  The tasting room is literally just that, a counter where you can taste plopped into the middle of their gift shop.  At $8 a tasting for 5 wines, it’s cheap thrills no frills. It’s small and charming, and when you pull up it looks like any old Midwest farm, aside from a massive 4-foot wine glass parked next to the road.  I’d recommend Lemon Creek if you’re in the area, this was my second trip there and it’s never crowded, plus the staff is nice.  The cherry wine they serve is also the bomb.

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After that, upon recommendation from our sommelier, we hit our next stop, Gravity.  Despite the name making it sound like a seedy mostly-underage club, Gravity looked like it fell off a postcard, and had a cute little pooch named Ollie who wandered around the vineyard begging for your leftovers.  Instead of doing the normal pony show where your sommelier tries to seduce you into purchasing with rambling about the “undertones of oak” and “hints of tobacco” in your glass, Gravity gives you a flight of wine with cheese & crackers to pair with.  You had me at food.  I was a fan, as I didn’t have to nod my head and pretend like I can actually taste more than one thing at once despite the fact that I only have 1 tongue per usual.

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Our final stop was Round Barn Winery.  Plot twist, at Round Barn you physically taste inside none other than -gasp- a round barn.  While Round Barn is slowly becoming tainted with commercialism, Round Barn is a personal fave.  They’ve upped their game, they give you not 5, not 6, but SEVEN tastings for the bargain price of $15 a head.  They also have a little bit more than just wine, including their house vodka, various fruity beers catered to my girly taste in booze, and my poison of choice, tequila.  Your tasting includes 4 wines, either a premium wine or a house-distilled vodka shot(ew), a tequila shot or cocktail, finishing with a shot of their praline-walnut liqueur.  We were definitely feelin ourselves by the time we hit about the halfway point in our tasting.

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Feelin fly and wanting to play with my DSLR, we decided to go & take ~cute~ pics by a gazebo behind the barn.  With the squad tipping and feeling sentimental, my BFF Other Tina decided that I should hop on a dilapidated crusty old barrel while they coddled me for an Insta-worthy shot.

Other Tina: TEEEEEN GET ON THE BARREL we’ll all hug you since you’re leaving it’ll be v-cute

Me: F no you dunce, my romper is so short that you can see my soul and I don’t want splinters anywhere that would make someone uncomfortable to pull them out

Other Tina: You won’t get splinters come on it’ll be SO CUTE I can picture the Insta already

Rest of the squad: COME ON TEEEEN GET UP THERE

(me to myself in my head with thoughts filtered with wine) Well why not, I’m already buzzed so I won’t feel a thing, #doitfortheinsta.

What happened next was legit Three Stooges material.  Cue me athletically jumping on the weathered old worn-out out barrel, the top of said barrel busting, me falling through, ending with my booty stuck in a freaking barrel while everyone was too drunk and laughing too hard to help me get out.  And did we get a pic of this tragic moment?  No, the photographer(Mama O) was too busy cracking up at her daughter writhing in pain and splinters while stuck in a barrel.

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Moral of the story, never listen to Other Tina.

If you’re in the area, definitely plan a trip(or a stumble) to the wineries in Michigan!  Like I said- a less popular less snooty Napa, bring the kids.

Landing on Tuesday at noon(Thai time, midnight Monday Chicago time) I have connecting flights in Abu Dhabi and Sri Lanka.  I have 12 hours in Abu Dhabi, so I’m hoping to be able to leave the airport and do a little sightseeing.  In the mean time I’ll be stuffing my face with paneer and baba ganoush on this flight where I’m the only non-Arab, like seriously no joke the flight food menu on Etihad is DOPE.

Thanks for reading!

Nash & Sour Mash: Music City & KY Bourbon

Seeing as I’ll be leaving the US for 10 months, my mother decided to take me to Nashville for the weekend.  I must say what a choice, nothing gets more American than country music, barbecue, and large tourists wearing sunglasses as accessories at 11PM in a bar while screaming to Johnny Cash cover artists.  If only my ears could’ve been thrown into a burning ring of fire at times(ba dum chhhh).

Nashville is by far one of my favorite U.S. cities.  You can day drink any day of the week without being branded as an alcoholic, there’s no cover, and there’s free live music everywhere you go.  Bonus – the live music is actually GOOD, like REALLY good, definitely the best live music I’ve been privileged to hear.  This particular trip I was especially pumped to go to Nashville with the hopes of spotting Kaitlyn Bristowe and Shawn Booth (Bachelor Nation where you at), but had no such luck.  Oh well, one of my high school BFFs is moving here post-grad very soon, so there will definitely be another Nash celebrity-stalking trip after returning to the US.

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12PM beer tasting at some random bar by Hillsboro Village.  Also THE FIRST TRIP I GOT TO USE MY CAMERA ON!  V exciting.

Unpopular opinion of the day- I actually love country music.  For some reason it’s become ~cool~ in the millennial generation to hate country but love blacking out at country concerts.  Bless hypocrisy.  I don’t just like hybrid-pop fluff either (sorry Hunter Hayes, you still rock never change), but also old school Alan Jackson and throwbacks like “Mountain Music.”  Don’t get me wrong, I also love Kygo, Calvin Harris, etc., but believe it or not it IS in fact possible to like both.  Country music is by far the best music to listen to live.  I’ve been to quite a few concerts, and country is the only stuff I’ve heard that actually sounds better live than recorded (with the exception of Jimmy Buffet, all hail), whether it’s from widely popular artists or unknown randos.

With all it’s fantastic live music, Nashville really is Music City USA.  Here’s a few places I visited this weekend in Nash.

Broadway

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Broadway during the day, taken from the rooftop at Tootsie’s.

Broadway is the main-street bar hub in Nashville, kind of like a less-plastic mini-Vegas.  By that, I mean you always see at least 10 Bachelorette parties, there’s neon lights left and ring, and there’s always someone at a weird age who’s the drunkest kid at the party.  In my case, this time it was woman celebrating her 92nd with Tequila and Patsy Kline.  She was an inspiration.  Broadway’s also fabulous because THERE’S NO COVER.  Like ANYWHERE.  The fact that my garbáge cow-town college bar charged $6 for cover and iconic bars in a major city with free entertainment charge nada blows my mind.  It’s great because you can wander in, chill and listen to the band for a few, and if you’re not feeling the vibe dip and hit another bar.

Broadway also houses a couple over-priced cowboy boot stores, a few barbecue spots, and classic neon signs advertising all of the above.  Shopping hack: NEVER make major purchases on major tourist streets.  Whether it’s precious jewelry on Ponte Vecchio in Florence or “Buy 1 get 2 free” Lariat cowboy boots on Broadway, they’re definitely marked way up.  Bar-wise my favorites on Broadway are The Stage (also has a great rooftop during the day), Tin Roof, and Tootsie’s.

Tootsie’s

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Tootsie’s Orchid lounge is probably as old as Broadway itself.  I love Tootsie’s because it’s small enough that even if there isn’t a huge crowd, it still feels rowdy (regardless of the fact that the nighttime Tootsie’s crowd can be quite geriatric).  It’s also a classic landmark, everything is purple(Orchid lounge, get it?), and has had the best music on the strip every time I’ve popped in.  We went on the first night and hung out for a little, left, then regretted leaving because the band was way better than anyone else we saw that night.

We also paid a visit to Tootsie’s rooftop during the day.  It was very Wrigleyville-esque(for any Chicagoans),  complete with discount Fireball shots and ex-fratstars.  But there was live music, great sun, Margaritas, and the crowd was on average about 30 years younger than Tootsie’s at night.  This time I didn’t feel like I was crashing a birthday party at a nursing home, definitely a plus.

The Opry

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The Opry is another iconic Nashville spot.  For anyone who’s never been, it’s the oldest live-running radio show in existence.  However, you really only go for the music, not the scene, as the crowd tends to be the oldest live-running crowd in existence.  There’s usually around 10 different artists that perform, with commentary and commercial announcements in between.

The artists that were at the Opry on this particular weekend were some dude I don’t know, another large dude I don’t know, a guy imitating Johnny Cash, about 3 other performers I don’t know, and Vince Gill, my middle-aged mother’s fave.  I’m sure if I had been born about 40 years earlier, the line up would’ve been bangin’.

What’s great about the Opry is that it’s pretty small for a concert venue, so even from the nosebleeds you can actually see who’s performing.  It’s also great because you get a solid variety, so if you don’t like one artist they’re only on for a few songs.  Then you don’t have to do that awkward concert thing where artist x plays a random song from his album you haven’t heard, but you feel pressured to fake lip-sync to avoid looking like a poser.

Hillsboro Village

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Pretty mural in Hillsboro Village.

Hillsboro Village is a trendy-ish area not too far from Vanderbilt University.  It’s home to boutiques, fro-yo, free-trade coffee shops, and a few other spots that make my basic heart sing.  My personal favorite of the boutiques was a store called Parish.  Their stock consisted of Free People and other on-trend brands, with a fabulous sale room where I found a summery blush BCBG romper for only $65.  Their jewelry was also fairly reasonable, and I found a super-cute non-tacky choker for $15, a #rare find in this day and age.

Street Art

Nashville also has some of the best wall murals that I’ve seen.  From the bars on Broadway to recording studios in the North End of the city, it’s everywhere.  It’s different than most other street art I’ve seen in major cities in that it doesn’t really have an urban gang-tagging vibe to it.  I paid a visit to one of the popular “I Believe in Nashville “signs, amongst a few others.  “Legends” on Broadway also has a great black-and-white mural of the skyline.nash1.jpg

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Dope mural, taken from the rooftop at The Stage.

Maker’s Mark – Loretta, KY

On the ride back to Chicago we made a pit-stop on the Kentucky Bourbon trail at Maker’s Mark Distillery.  The Kentucky Bourbon trail is a group of 10 bourbon distilleries distributed throughout Kentucky, mostly near Louisville.  The Maker’s Mark property was stunningly gorgeous.  In fact, I’d say it would make a great wedding venue, except all the buildings are done up in Maker’s Mark black and red, kind of making it look like Lord Licorice’s castle.

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Just like Candyland, right?

The distillery tour was a classic booze tour, I swear if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.  After the amount of booze tours I’ve been on I really should start making my own.  One thing that I did find cool about Maker’s Mark is that they actually hand-dip their red wax onto every single bottle, it’s not done by a machine.

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A couple of charity branded Maker’s Mark bottles(sorry for the blur, I let Papa O use my camera and forgot to switch manual focus).

Apparently you’re supposed to taste bourbon by letting it run over your tongue.  Like SLOWLY.  Like not just shooting it to the back of your throat.  It was a tad rough to say the least, especially with that 130 proof clear killer on the left in the pic below.  I think I grew a few chest hairs going through this experience.

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Left to right: Psychopathic, kind of doable, a slightly rough ride, and borderline rubbing alcohol.  I like whiskey but I guess I don’t like sipping it.

Leaving for Thailand in less than a week, more to come soon, thanks for reading!