Traveling with dogs

 

What happens when you want to see the world but can’t bear to leave Fido at home? You do what we did: lots of research, mistakes, and pay lots of money. Read on to share our experiences and learn from our mistakes. (Not that this presumes you are taking your pup on the plane with you. I have no experience with shipping a dog via cargo)

DOMESTIC

We started by doing a shorter trial run to Portland. My in-laws live there and we thought this would be a good opportunity to see how they would do in their carriers, through security and so on. It would also give us some good first-hand experience in going through all the procedures since we knew we were planning on taking them with us to Italy. After following most of the suggestions found online regarding not feeding them several hours before the flight, giving them something that smells familiar in the carrier, leaving the carriers out & getting them used to being inside during car rides, we were ready to take off.

First of all, taking a dog can be expensive. Be prepared to pay the extra fees as well as deal with the dog counting as your personal item; if you’re a light packer you’re good, but if not, it may mean having to check an extra bag. Just food for thought. The fees seem to be about the same for each airline, around $100 per dog, one-way. In our case, more expensive than the Southwest ticket for ourselves #eyeroll

Speaking of Southwest, they were perfectly helpful to us & our animal companions. They tagged the carrier and just reminded us to keep the dogs inside the whole flight. Otherwise, no issues whatsoever.

Security from the human side was the same except for the fact that you don’t go through the 360 hands-over-head x-ray machine. You go through the old faithful one since you have to carry your dog through with you. The empty carrier goes through on the belt like everything else. I recommend just carrying the leash with you (collars can stay on) just so its easier to keep control of the dog should they wiggle free somehow. After clearing the metal detectors we had our hands swabbed and the swab scanned to see if there were any harmful chemicals hidden on the dog & once cleared, we were done. Very easy.

On the plane, the carriers must stay under the seat and for some taller readers this may pose a problem. Since we aren’t cursed with height, the carriers we have (Amazon Basics, Medium) will slide either underneath with them facing out or you can tuck it sideways. We found sideways to be more comfortable for us and the dogs but if you do have longer legs, having them lengthwise (tucked all the way under on one side) may be more comfortable for you.

Flight concluded, we evaluated the differences for the long flight & some of the things we learned. Since we were still in the US, no customs issues or anything else other than getting the rental car & having some fun.

INTERNATIONAL

There’s a lot more to go through in this instance, although the basic principles are the same – make the reservation with the airline after you’ve purchased your tickets, don’t feed them within 3 hours or so before the flight, take them out through security, etc.

Here’s some other things to consider:

Breaks – This may mean that you don’t get to do a non-stop flight but getting them out to stretch & run after several hours is a good idea & good for you too. If you do choose to do the long haul flight, we’ve heard of folks taking the carrier into the restroom to let the pup stretch but our flight attendants likely would have frowned upon that so use at your own risk

Water – Based off a tip found online, we asked the flight attendant for a cup of ice & put that whole thing in the carrier. This way, as it melted, they could remain hydrated but not have access to a whole bunch all at once.

Temperature – Plane temps can vary quite a bit as we all probably know. Down there on the floor, the temps can be even different. In our case, it was warm for the first flight but pretty cool on the second one (daytime vs. evening) so we partially covered the carrier with one of the airline blankets. Not so much to block airflow of course, but enough to provide a little insulation. This was in addition to the blanket that was already inside.

Requirements – biggest deal ever!!! Please quadruple check all the requirements for the country you are visiting. I messed up & it was quite a costly mistake. Timelines for getting things done are non-negotiable so you will absolutely need to be perfect on your timing.

Learning Point: coming into Italy, a dog will need to have a 15-digit microchip, current rabies given after the microchip and a minimum 21 day incubation after the rabies before entering the country. Even if the dog is current since it’s primary as a pup, this must be done. We were short on the days and no amount of bargaining, pleading or explaining helped; no health certificate can be issued by your veterinarian. Speaking of make sure your vet is accredited and you get your health certificate notarized by the the proper authority. In Italy’s case, this meant within 10 days of arrival and, for us, a several hour drive away from home. As you can see, lots and lots and lots of planning and prep is needed to make this as smooth as possible for both of you.

(Interestingly, we had more issues in Canada going through customs than our final destination, Italy. But your mileage may vary)

So bottom line is that with lots of planning and prep, it can be very smooth to engage in air travel with your beloved four-legged friend. If you have any tips or thoughts, please share in the comments below.

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Driving in Italy

Driving in Italy

First thoughts…don’t do it. Public transit works just perfectly near the cities.

Second thought…nope, still not worth it.

Ok the fine print. I did (am) doing it a the moment and it’s not all bad…

First the good stuff. You truly do get to see a lot of things that perhaps you wouldn’t normally. Well my wife and Nacho would see more. I however am usually zoned in on the road and the GPS while attempting to decipher all the signs. In any case, there’s a lot more of the countryside than you could possibly imagine and the old buildings and rolling hills are a nice counterpoint to the ridiculous speed limits. But before I get there, let’s talk drivers.

The drivers have a reputation for being crazy. In my experience they aren’t so much crazy as they just know exactly where they’re going & since we don’t we slow them down. This would annoy anyone methinks (try driving in San Francisco with the myriad of barcode-stickered Fords and Toyotas…yeesh). As you cruise around, looking at the scenery or trying to figure out what that sign says or what the current speed limit is, they are off to work, school, shopping, etc, etc, etc simply trying to go about their day. Round-abouts confuse the normal American as it seems to be a complete free-for-all but just keep moving and everything works incredibly well. The country roads heading through the hills and even cruising around 80 mph on the AutoStrada can be actually quite nice.

Of course, being near the city is a whole different beast, especially anytime around rush hour. The movies paint a picture of masses of metal, swearing, and honking; this appears to be mostly true. The honking seems to be more of an indicator that someone is near you or that you’re doing something wrong (for instance entering a driveway going the wrong way. Yes. Experience) as opposed to the use of the horn back in the States where it’s a way to express just how angry you are with that other moron behind the wheel. This could still happen if you do indeed drive like a moron, but more often than not, it’s just a notification. Like those annoying pop ups on your iPhone. Just keep your nose clean, stay to the right unless you’re passing and don’t get in the wrong lane when entering or exiting the autostrada (More on that below)

Now for the downsides.

The speed limits. Around town anyway. Though the 130km/h on the toll highway and even the 100 or 90 on the standard highways make perfect sense and are very easy to cruise at, the 50/60/30 switches when around town make no sense. Most sites say that 50 is the limit in the developed portions but there will inevitably be a sign saying 30 all of a sudden which requires a slam of the breaks for you & everyone behind you. Why? Because of the second nitpick I have with driving here.

The speed cameras. Since apparently Italy has a problem with not having enough police to monitor the roads, they use cameras to catch speeders. No officer is needed; it’s just a picture of your license plate, your speed and the cost that you receive in the mail a month or more later on. I’m pretty sure I will have a bunch of them waiting for me when we get back.

The zones are always after a warning sign that it’s coming up which helps but as a foreigner it’s difficult to know exactly what they look like where they are & how quickly you have to slow down to avoid a major ticket & fine. It seems like most of the other Italians just cruise around without caring or maybe they just instinctively know where they are all at – must be nice to have such a carefree attitude. Not a luxury I can afford.

It doesn’t help when the other driver is right behind me and when I have to break hard to get to the appropriate speed to pass the camera, the driver behind me slams on his brakes and then throws his hands up in frustration with me. I don’t mind them being close; I’m more frustrated with the cameras and speed limits that don’t make any sense. But of course this isn’t the only hard part about driving in Italy.

The ZTL. Disclaimer: with a bit of diligent research you can pretty easily avoid driving through these areas. Most GPS units seem to guide you around the areas you aren’t allowed to be in and looking ahead of time at a map of the ZTL and comparing it with a Google Map of the area to see where the parking lot is, you should be fine.

However, the reason it’s a bit of a frustration to me is not for the actual ZTL which servers a great purpose of preserving the historical center, but the signage that is posted around in other, supposed non-ZTL areas. For instance, we exited the highway nowhere near the historical center only to come upon a “Zona Trafffico Limiterio” sign at the end of the off-ramp before a merge. There was literally no other way to turn or place to go to avoid driving into it. Think of driving down a one-way street and about halfway through it, bam, a sign and a camera. This feels like too much of a trap to be real but here we are. Can’t wait to see what that fine will be, especially since we took that off-ramp 3-4 times over the last week.

Another similar one was at the start of a particular round-about that we had to use to head towards the proper freeway. If I follow the rules of the round-about (going all the way around it to get to my “3rd exit”) I pass a ZTL sign & camera. Essentially I entered the zone for about 10 ft then circle around and leave but the fact that I still crossed that barrier on camera means I will likely get a fine. While I may have been able to avoid it by going completely in the other direction in the first place, if the authorities know people have to go around it, why not put it on the other side to catch those entering & continuing into the restricted area instead of just catching everyone regardless of where they are headed…just feels too much like a trap to me.

Nacho agrees:

So yeah. Here’s the cliff-notes version of some tips. In a future post, I’ll make some notes about how we got the car & the service used.

⁃ Utilize the car’s GPS, Waze, Google Maps, etc as much as possible. But remember this isn’t a substitute for point #2 especially since these devices will only give you the fastest or shortest distance, potentially ignoring areas you won’t be allowed

⁃ Try to familiarize yourself with the basic signs ahead of time. Speed limit, no entry, one way, the blue/white arrow ones that show you where you lane is, no parking, no stopping, etc, etc, etc

⁃ Gas is expensive, especially since it’s by the Liter. Spring for the diesel IMO which will still be expensive but at least you’ll go farther on a tank. Self-service is cheaper than full-service, just remember to press the button for the amount you want it to dispense after getting approval on the card reader

⁃ Make sure you use the “Biglietto” (entering) and “Carte” (exiting) lanes for the tolls. When exiting, I like the combo Carte/cash & coin lane(s) just in case the card reader doesn’t work.

If you can afford it, the costs of staying nearer to public transit (in any form, bus, train or tram) can far outweigh the freedoms of the car & it’s costs. Our use case was very specific but in the future, I would likely just rent a car for a few days at a time, as needed & pay more to stay nearer the city center.

Any tips you want to share or horror stories about driving in Italy?

Rebooted

We’re baaaaccck…well sort of anyway. The blog has taken a big hit do to life getting in the way but with some new adventures on the horizon, I’m going to try & get back at it although admittedly it will be skewed more towards the travel side as opposed to the CrossFit/workout side. While CrossFit is still very much a part of our lives, be it in an actual box or simply doing our own thing at home, current life goals & realities have caused that part to become secondary. Let me explain…

We are going to be living in Italy for the next 3 months. Many view this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and adventure but for us it will hopefully be a prelude to something greater (and more permanent). While it definitely is the right choice for us, it is also scary and unnerving and exciting all at the same time. I suppose any major life choice can be the same; but in this case we are leaving behind all our stuff (except clothes & dogs) including terminating our lease, shoving everything into storage & taking off. Oh and we’re bringing our two chihuahua’s as well. (The fun there is for a later post)

Why did we decide to do it? When taking an honest look at our circumstances (and finances) we found that the only thing really keeping us here was ourselves & fear of the unknown. We had a desire to help other people more & having found out about the opportunity to share our faith with refugees living in Italy, we thought this a chance we couldn’t pass up. Life also gave us an additional push since I had still been dealing with the death of my mom, my dad’s remarriage, my wife’s family up & moving to Washington State and just general stress in daily life from the routine. All this culminated in a decision that proved to be easier to make than we thought. But then came the planning…ugh.

I enjoy planning out things like this actually. Exploring options, figuring out locations, times, opportunities, etc and actually making reservations and plans it exciting to me. But all that really comes to a head when you realize the trip is only a week or two away & you still have a ton of stuff left to do. Remember: we weren’t just going on a long vacation; we were moving out of our rental house, packing clothes for multiple needs and selling off excess items that we just plain didn’t need anymore. It’s unsettling watching one’s whole life fit into a 10×10 storage unit. It’s also unsettling paying some $200+ a month to house all your junk.

So, long story short (too late?) we packed up, caught our flight and have now been living just outside of Florence (Firenze) for the past week and a half or so. Overall, no regrets about leaving, but truth be told, there’s been some learning experiences, some trials & errors, and I plan to share as much as possible with you over the next 3 months. The goal will be at least one big post per week, with perhaps smaller ones here & there about interesting finds or discoveries.

If there’s any specific questions you have or things that you’d like to know, please leave a comment & I’ll do my best to help out.

Grazie!

Anticipation

The unknown and unknowable…go where no human has gone before…

Taking a leap and either going somewhere or doing something you weren’t sure about can lead to all sorts of cool experiences but the anticipation of said events often goes undiscussed. Since I’ve got two new things on the horizon, I thought I’d throw some feelings out there.

In the nearer future, I have my first official CrossFit competition this weekend. A friend and I decided it looked like fun and since it’s at (our) home box, why not? So with the promise of a cheering section, comfort from “home turf” we signed up. That was about 4 weeks ago and the anticipation has been insane.

It starts with the excitement: “we’re really doing this!”

Then comes then planning: “how are we going to do this?”

Then the realization that you have to perform in front of people with weights you’re not sure of: “Wait…we’re really doing THIS?!?!”

Yes, my $100 registration says we’re going to attempt to do this.

The good news is that since it’s our first, there’s no real expectation. Go have fun, experience the environment, and see what it’s all about. For me as a garage gym stalwart, it’s also a challenge to see how I stack up against some full-timers from all over the area. Of course in this case, having the Incredible Hulk on your team helps. We’ve practiced the workouts, strategized and see how quickly it all goes out the window on Saturday.

But in the end, the anticipation now, about 4 days out, is coming out from both ends. A post of the experience will be up Saturday evening or Sunday morning, assuming my arms still work…

The second life adventure is an upcoming vacation, which will also take us our of our comfort zone: Europe. This is the one spot we’ve wanted to go for about 15 years but never actually made it. The planning started quite a while ago, you could say…but with Brexit happening flights dropped in price and time off building up, it’s happening.

With all the planning that goes into something like this, the anticipation hasn’t built too much. Mostly it’s worry about figuring everything out & getting things in place. Basically too busy to worry too much about the trip. But with every purchase confirmation & AirBnB reserved, that anticipation builds and will climax once we take off.

As of this moment, it’s a whirlwind trip of 3 countries, primarily Italy, over 3 weeks at the end of the year. Of course, I’ll do my best to share our experiences here. As you can see from the post times, I haven’t been as loyal to this blog as perhaps I should be but when life gets busy, hobbies get set aside.

Hopefully the anticipation of all these new and wonderful experiences will get the creative, journalistic juices flowing.

How do you prepare for new journeys? Any tips on competition or travel in Europe?

CrossFit Games Open – 16.1

As most people involved in the CrossFit brand of fitness know, the Open is upon us. The first of five workouts was announced last Thursday to a chorus of groans, sighs, and expletives aimed at Dave Castro. Yet another workout that not only would test the abilities of all participants with a new movement, but push most of us to our limits with its length. The first workout of the CrossFit Games Open was:

  • In 20 minutes, do as many reps as possible of:
  • 25ft overhead lunge at 95/65
  • 8 bar facing burpees
  • 25ft overhead walking lunge at 95/65
  • 8 chest to bar pull-ups

Initially, I admit, I wasn’t too worried about it. For once, I knew I could do the movements as prescribed. The problem was that I’ve been nursing an injury to my abdomen for the past couple weeks & the stress from the lunge as well as the chest to bar wasn’t going to help. That excuse aside, I practiced the movements a bit that evening after the announcement just to get a feel for it. Friday evening would be the day I give it a shot.

I should also mention that my mantra for this Open was “1 and done”. No repeats, just leave it out there on the floor, friends’ scores be damned.

Another honorable mention is the support from the community to garage athletes. Since not all of us have the space or equipment needed for every workout, the Open would be less accessible without the hospitality of local boxes, willing to open their doors. We are fortunate enough to be friends with the owners of CrossFit Danville (where my wife is a member as well) who always, graciously, allow us to drop-in for these workouts. Big shout out to them and if you’re ever in the area, make them a drop-in stop.

Back to the story. Friday rolled around & as I strategized the workout, I remembered a few things. First, all strategies tend to go out the window when you can’t feed enough oxygen to the brain. Second, I have a hard time counting, so make every rep count. Lastly, push, but remember there’s 5 weeks of this torture, so if you tear something or further injure yourself, you’re done. Not like I was making it to Regionals, but you want to do your best no matter what. So walking into the gym on Friday evening I knew my warmup, I knew my pace and my goal. Now it was time to put it into practice and see what happens.

——-

Boy, that escalated quickly.

After peeling myself off the floor, I was able to reflect. First, as expected, my abdomen strain didn’t allow me to do the chest to bars optimally nor the lunge push-off on the left side. This contributed to having to stop at least once each 12-15 feet in the lunge & 2-3 pull-ups at a time. Annoying since this one was sort of in my wheelhouse. The 95lbs overhead didn’t feel as bad as I anticipated and my shoulders held up well (thanks in part to a nice suggestion online to keep the blades down & back as opposed to up). With a final score of 144 reps in 20 minutes, I wasn’t happy, but it was more than I thought & no additional injury.

Reflecting on it further, especially as my wife & two other friends were doing it on Saturday afternoon, led me to a couple strategies that might help:

  • Pace yourself to only rest in between movements. Try not to stop (at least not very long) during, say, the 8 burpees, but finish those reps & rest before picking up the bar for the next lunge.
  • If you can keep the bar up the whole 25ft, do it. Single biggest waste of time is dropping it, move it back, and get it overhead again.
  • If you know you can’t butterfly or kip all the chest to bar don’t try it. Hanging there to prep for the next one also stresses your shoulders. Drop off & try to get right back up there. Even if it’s singles.
  • Lastly, don’t have anyone calling out the time, unless you want specific intervals (half way, 2 minutes, etc). It just gets frustrating when you feel like you’ve gone 17 minutes and it’s really only been 5.

In the end, it was another good test from Mr. Castro. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 16.2

How did you do with 16.1? Leave a comment if you like…

 

CF Road Trip – Day 6: Portland

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Eating…it’s the best thing ever. How I do love you, food.

In all honesty, we were supposed to get up and workout this morning. Had it setup to go drop-in to another box & do a WOD of our choosing. But then sleep & food interfered with our plans. Ah sleep…and food.

We elected to sleep in a bit and I got to spend some time on this blog, but in all reality it felt kind of good to just let our bodies rest. It had been a long week of both PRs and just moving weight so sometimes your just have to listen to your body and allow it to recover. We decided that since we were resting, we would attempt to have a good breakfast at a local place & just hang out, enjoying the city. The suggested location was “Mother’s Bistro & Bar” and boy was it popular. We waited roughly an hour for a table amidst the many hungry patrons, looking to indulge in the wonderful items they offered on the menu. The nice thing was the unlimited coffee that was available to anyone waiting…for a nominal fee of course.

Once our name was called, we quickly accepted the table and started scouring the menu for the best items. As it turned out, we decided to go with several of the specials: the strawberry covered waffle, the eggs benedict and the smoked gouda and ham scramble. Sometimes you have to try new things to find the amazing. In this case, that’s true; all the times we had were absolutely incredible. If you are ever in a position to visit this place, don’t balk at the standard hour-long wait. Just grab a cup of coffee, or 6, from the bar and hang out. It will deliver.

From there it was time to get some tourist-style sight-seeing in. We travelled out to several waterfalls in the area, currently protected to preserve the landmarks as special points of interest for everyone. Multonomah falls, Horsetail falls and the Vista House all provided unfettered access to nature in all it’s glory. The pictures below won’t really do it justice; if you’re traveling in the area, stop by these locations to truly appreciate the majesty.

After the beauty of creation, we went with the beauty of created items, in this case coffee & beer. Stops at Coava and Stumptown allowed for a comparison (TIP: purchasing beans? search for Stumptowns tasting room when beans are sold wholesale) of one type of brew while a little drive over to Hopworks BikeBar supplied the other brew.

Rogue Distillery and Public House was one more stop before dinner. In trying to find locally-made breweries, this one is high on the list as far as notoriety. And the beer isn’t bad either. (TIP: Samplers or Tasters will usually provide not only a good variety of beer, but a good value since you’ll get nice sized shots, generally 3oz up to 5oz, of each) A small sampling of the food here returned good, tasty bar-fare and you could easily make a meal out of it. But we had a dinner recommendation we didn’t want to miss.

The Portland Grill sounds like it would be a standard fare, fancy restaurant attached to a hotel, meant to provide guests with a quick, pricey meal. That’s partially correct, it is dark, fancy-ish, restaurant in a hotel. However, the service & the food were much better than anticipated. Though it had come highly recommended, we figured it was more for the view & location than anything else. Normally I wouldn’t have ordered Sushi in a place like this, but as you can see, I did and it was quite good, very fresh.  Ambiance is nice with the live piano player, the wait staff are fun and converse easily with the guests. Go dressed nicely, but don’t let that spoil the experience.

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And with that, we finally reach our last night of this trip. One more post for breakfast and a few final thoughts before a long drive home.

CF Road Trip – Day 5: Vancouver/Car

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Did I mention riding in a car for a million hours isn’t fun? Yes, we could’ve thought about that before a Road Trip but we also could’ve brought pillows for the butt. That would’ve helped. Our Chrysler Town & Country rental did it’s job perfectly fine, but that doesn’t mean our bodies enjoyed sitting for that long either. And today turned out to be a true test of the desire to road trip.

For the majority of this trip, we’d enjoyed traffic-free driving, so it was only a matter of time before that fortune would end…back to the story.

After another good night out (see the previous post, Day 4) we “awoke” to rain. Well some rain, mostly just cool temperatures but enough so that 2 of us made the journey to CrossFit 604 while the others slept in. We made it there in plenty of time & got checked-in with one of the coaches so we could begin stretching. After a brief warmup with the fairly large class for 8am, we went over the WOD for the day. Considering how worn out the body was feeling, this was going to be a little lighter & slower for us.

The box itself was dark, but very well-equipped. In fact, one of the better though-out setups in our opinion. Having enough equipment to line both sides so there wasn’t any “cross-over” with the Rogue rack bi-secting the floor is a great idea. Ropes, rings, even down to the clips and chalk were evenly distributed to both sides of the gym so there would be less confusion or running into each other. Great idea!

After the WOD we bought the requisite shirts & headed back to shower, pack up and start the long journey back to Portland. This turned into a fairly eventful journey.

First, breakfast. The reviews of Chambar mentioned how amazing the food was; it didn’t mention the attire (more specifically, I didn’t read that part). So we ended up being dressed in very casual, travel clothes for a fancier place. Fortunately, we are in Vancouver, BC where everyone is ridiculously nice & accommodating (the rumors are true!!)

The food certainly lived up to its hype and concluded an amazing food experience in Canada. Don’t miss the waffles. Just don’t.

On the road again, we encountered rain, rain & more rain all the way back to Seattle. Since we didn’t quite leave early enough to make the trek out to Astoria (Goonie-ville) like we planned, we elected to head back south to Portland and try for Astoria tomorrow (apparently sometime Goonies DO say die…). Good thing to since from about 4-5 miles outside of Seattle we stopped dead. For-ev-er.

(Side note: crossing the border back into the US turned out to be a longer stop than into Canada, but more hilarious. Hopefully you get to run into a border patrol agent with a sense of humor like we did.)

Time to hit the streets and find a way around this…oops. That didn’t help. The Seattle streets were jam-packed with visitors, commuters, and everything else you could imagine. Minutes turned to what felt like days of just sitting. Finally we had enough & found somewhere to stop & eat to wait out the traffic. This led us to Von’s.

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Depending on the review or sign, it’s either “Von’s Gustobistro” or “Von’s 1000 spirits”. Either way, it was a respite for us from the hellish traffic we had been in. We waited a bit in the extensive bar for a table, but were treated to a bustling crowd, lots of conversation-listening, and decent drinks. The food was also very good, with an emphasis on their house-made pasta and beef, both in meatball form & burger. Try either or both, it was worth it.

At around 7:30pm we braved the cold again to see if we were going to make it back to Portland ever. We were, and did. The stop off had helped! Now with full-bellies we made the trek back to Portland.

After the long drive, we arrived around 10pm and after some unpacking & deliberating a couple of us decided to try a brewery that was open until midnight – Deschutes. It turned out to be a cross between traditional bar/brewery and restaurant as they had plenty of tables & booths for families to relax in. In our case, we opted for a bar table, some tasters and some bottles to take home. Kudos for the server(s) as well since it seemed towards the end of the night, they just want to laugh & relax as well. Or maybe that’s just how they roll here. Either way, great way to relax after the long time spent in the van.