Monday, October 20, 2008

Plant Pilgrimage- Part 2

When you really have to have it: ask a travel agent to find it.

Once, I was longing for a specific bottle of wine. I didn’t have the name. Just a photograph taken of someone else in Spain and the opinion that the wine was GOOD. I hunted wine stores. They called their vendors. They called importers who in turn called exporters.

Who found it? The remarkable Patty Gee- Travel Agent Extraordinaire of Progressive Travel. She had the wine named, sourced and at my doorstep in less than 2 days.

I thought I could handle getting a room for my quick get-away up to Berkeley. Last minute searching on the Internet turned up names of accommodations- but no vacancies.
Thank Goodness for Patty! She understands that it is not perfection that I seek in travel. I follow the counsel of the late landscape architect Thomas Church, “Absolute perfection, like absolute consistency, can be dull.” I seek a quietly memorable adventure filled with beauty at a price that does not send my husband into shock. Using her services has never cost me a dime extra- I get a better trip with her help- now that's value.
I e-mailed my itinerary and she sent back a confirmation for the elegantly comfortable Mill Valley Inn.

Crossing “the bridge” over the bay transported me in minutes from the crowded city to a world where redwoods stand sentry over the understory of trees and ferns: the thousand shades of green filled me with wonderment. Enthralled by the ancient forest- the moist, fresh air filled my lungs with youth.

Timbers and old bricks fronted the business district buildings with Hansel and Gretel charm. Pockets of flower beds perked up streetscape. I was thoroughly enchanted when I reached the inn.

Staff was professionally friendly, directing me to the well-insulated little room that delightfully lacked the corporate dullness of so many lodgings. The bathroom was softest buttercup yellow. The desk vanity and mirror are finished with a green distressing technique. The door to the balcony really opens: you can hear the jays clacking in the trees. Underneath the vaulted ceiling was the most comfortable bed covered in fine, crisp white linens.
Over a complimentary glass of wine I perused the list of local amenities. It can be awkward dining when traveling alone. But Mill Valley offers safe streets with a dozen or so restaurants within comfortable walking distance.
Piazza D’Angelo is one of those upscale Italian neighborhood restaurants that appeals to my inner-foodie. The fact that mentioning my lodgings would score a complimentary glass of champagne made it an irresistible dinner destination.
What to eat? The Insalatinadi Spinaci e Gorgonzola intrigued. It is a variation on the simple spinach salad. The unusual topping that tempted me was the caramelized red onions. That, and it offered a chance to taste the roasted garlic lemon vinaigrette.
The salad was satisfying in its own right- but travel is about discovery. I needed to explore a bit more the riches of this particular culinary stop.
On the waitress’ recommendation, I made room for the Tortelloni della Casa, the simple house made pasta stuffed with spinach, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses coated gently in a creamy tomato sauce. Shavings of fresh basil is the simple touch that made the meal magnifique. After the complicated salad- this was comfort food on the first order: simple, filling and fulfilling. It made me dream of returning to my own kitchen, to putting on my apron and gathering my family together to share with them what I learned on my trip.

Helpful Websites:

Patty Gee and Progressive Travel

Piazza D'Angelo de Vivre Hotels

Mill Valley Inn is a member of the Joie de Vivre Hotels

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