Sunday, August 19, 2018

Babysitters Give us Time Off

I've been thinking about what constructively to write in this post. So it's time to thank Tom & Liz who have agreed to babysit Lucinda's Country Inn from time to time. We really appreciate them doing that. Our guests, the wineries in Fair Play and our friends who have met them all agree - they are fantastic people. Some have even stated, maybe they should replace us, that's how friendly and nice Tom & Liz are. We are working on that. They gave Cindy & I a chance to get away for a two week trip, a river cruise on the Danube from Budapest, Hungary to Bucharest, Romania. WOW, what an experience.

The river Danube is beautiful. In a couple of spots it is almost a mile wide and at the Iron Gate Gorge it is just a little over one hundred fifty yards wide. It is blue in some places, especially looking off in the distance. To accommodate large barges transporting many types of goods up and down the river  a dam was built that raised the water level about 100 feet in some areas. Yes, they had to move villages and farmers. Now the big barges and river cruise ships can transverse the entire Danube.

The start of our trip was in Budapest. We arrived in Buda and spent our first night at the fabulous Ritz Carlton (Thank you Marriott Rewards points.). It is in a large building converted from a communist government operation. They did a great job of converting a utilitarian building into this luxury establishment.

This is from the topside in the skylight shaft of the lobby dome in the Ritz Carlton.

I use Buda because at this point in our trip that is where we were. The locals require you to visit the other side of the river, Pest, by crossing the Chain Bridge, before you can say Budapest. You must visit both sides over that bridge to use the full name. We did a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. There were two routes and we took both so we could see and be told about most of Budapest.

Paloskolostar Monastery on the Pest side of the Danube near the Freedom Bridge

Budapest, Hungary; Belgrade, Bulgaria and Bucharest, Romania were the three highlights of our trip.  When the ship docked at the points of the cruise for a tour of the sites, we boarded buses and were driven to the sites. In all five countries we visited: Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, the countryside is quite alike: low rolling hills filled with agriculture, mainly sunflowers and corn. Sunflower is grown for the sunflower oil and the corn for animal feed mainly. The tour guides spoke about the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains being about 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) high. (Fair Play is at 2,300 feet and we aren't even into the Sierras yet.).  They talked about their liberation from the communists and how a lot of places have buildings that  remain from the freedom struggles twenty yeas ago, including bullet holes in the walls, blown out windows and missing walls. I'm convinced the people want the western tourist to see what kind of struggle they had and we'll feel sorry for them, then come back home and scream they need help.

In Osijek, Croatia the "Highlight" was watching and Eagle Scout earn a patch by demonstrating an ancient game of  "Grab the Flag." 

Three days (one day we stayed on the ship) out of five we had to travel by bus 1 1/2 hours one way and spend 2 hours (maybe) at the site to visit and then the return trip. I don't think the people who planned the excursions did their job very well, or there just isn't any place to visit right along the river. Even to visit Belgrade and Bucharest we had to travel by bus for a couple hours. Each bus trip had a tour guide who provided local history and explained what little there was to see along the way, mostly lots of agricultural stuff. The first two trips our tour guide ladies did a great great job.

Miles & Miles of Sunflowers. Look close in the distance at more sunflowers

On our final day, from the ship to Bucharest and the Bucharest tour, we had a male guide who spoke very good English, but his cadence would put the whole bus to sleep within five minutes. He droned on and on. When we went to the Parliament Palace in Bucharest, during the tour there were about what seemed like five hundred steps. It was stated there are a bunch of steps and don't get separated from the group. No A/C, no water fountains, water in the rest room was brown from the faucets and no places to sit made the tour a lot of hard work for me and most of the others. The building was beautiful and the view from the Palatial Balcony was exquisite. A majestic view down the boulevard miles long. Nicolae Ceausescu's was arrested, tried before the gathering of people and executed along side his wife, all within one hour on Christmas day, 1989 here at the Parliament palace

 From the balcony of Parliament Palace 

The river cruise highlight was the Iron Gate Gorge. The only way you can see this is on the river. 

Decebalas, the last King of Dacia during the 100's (later became known as Romania), defied the Romans for many years.  Rather than succumb he killed himself in the gorge. Between 1994 and 2004 this carving was done to honor him. 

The cruise line, which we traveled on in 2016 on the Rhine, was once again a real gem of an experience. Every single crew member was a perfect host, no matter what their duties were. They were friendly, very respectful and accommodating for any and all whims we had. I had my Ballantine Whiskey resupplied almost before I emptied the last short bottle. Cindy's Vermentino wine was replaced just as fast. We also got a little art work, Ralph waiting for us on our living room table after a day's outing.


All in all the cruise was very enjoyable, relaxing and informative. There were some things that should have been made more clear before we booked the cruise--the number of days and hours on buses just to get to our appointed tourist visit and the number of steps at the different places (I didn't do two places because the cruise director said there were hundreds of steps involved.). The pride of the countries and the struggles for independence is admired, I understand that pride. I'm proud to be an American. What I don't understand is the lack of caring for even rose gardens in major parks and the parks themselves. It appears the communist influence of "that is your job and that is the only thing you do" has prevailed. The unkempt appearance that is rampant everywhere is very disheartening. I can say that the three big cities we visited are beautiful, the rest I have to describe as 2 1/2 world, not quite third world. My next trip to Eastern Europe will be to Budapest and then north. Once is enough for the other parts of our trip.

'Til next time.....

Daryl














Saturday, June 16, 2018

My, How Things Have Changed - Part 2

I've been thinking how do I tie the last post and this one together. Then I realized it does it all by itself.

The greatest challenge we have had has been using the Online Travel Agents (OTA's - Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com etc.). Our first foray into the wilderness of OTA's was trying to work in the world of Booking.com (Owned by Priceline). We got indoctrinated at a conference about the great things they would do for us and we'd reap all the money from all their work. Things didn't quite work that way. Every single reservation we got through Booking.com over four months was screwed up in one way or another. We terminated our relationship with ill feelings on both sides. We didn't use any OTA's for a few years.

BedandBreakfast.com (Owned by Homeaway, which is owned by Expedia) has a program for upscale B&B's, like us, called the Diamond Collection. They allowed only a few hundred places, out of thousands of members in their directory in the country to receive that distinction. They give the Diamond Collection members preferential placement in their directory and used them for publicity. The return on our investment has been good.  In 2016 they offered their booking engine, Rezovation, for us to use in conjunction with the one we are using, Webervations - owned by the same company, Homeaway, for nothing if we agreed to having BedandBreakfast.com also take reservations for us. Let's see, a no cost booking engine, a free listing in their directory and they take reservations for us for only the cost of their commission on their BedandBreakfast.com reservations. I jumped on that, like a warm blanket on a baby. Our bookings increased immediately. Shortly after that they offered Expedia, Hotels.com and a whole host of the OTA's to work with us through BedandBreakfast.com for only the OTA's commission.  That has proved to be one of the better decisions we've made. Our bookings come rolling in, and we don't pay any credit card processing fees, credit card charge backs, and if there is a cancellation at short notice, the OTA fights with the potential guest and we keep the cancellation fee. Yes there are small glitches somewhere, but the OTA's have been a godsend for us. The beauty is, like a young couple said, just today (6/1/18), they would never have found us without using Hotels.com.

Speaking of the OTA's, they all promise the public their prices are the lowest available anywhere. Some say you get a big discount by booking through them. Here's a dirty little secret, all of them play their word games to entice people to use them, but you are paying the same price that the business offers to the public. Here at Lucinda's Country Inn, our Vineyard Suite currently has a weekend rate of $185 a night, plus tax. That is what you pay using an OTA and we pay them a commission for using their services. We gladly pay that for people staying their first time. When the guests check out we give them their receipt that explains they need to use our website to make their next reservation. That way they earn their credits for the Friends of Lucinda's program and get a free night faster than if they keep using their OTA.

I became quite proficient at managing our website, at least I thought I was. At the PAII Conference in Las Vegas in 2010, a website design company owned by a husband and wife team that previously owned a B{&B for 12 years, had a booth at the trade show and each did a seminar. Lisa explained to me, after scrutinizing our website at one of her seminars, our website lacked the necessary SEO (Search Engine Optimization) needed for a high ranking result. What that means is all the technical stuff web designers use to make their websites always look good and get great Google search results. And if the website has good Google results it has good results on all the other search engines (Yahoo, Bing, Altavista, etc.). At the same conference were several "Booking Engine" companies - Booking.com, Expedia, and others I can't remember.

I started using Constant Contact several years ago for Lucinda's emails/newsletters. I've never believed a B&B should email their guest list as often as retail places. Those emails have become a great way for people on our email list to know what is going on around Lucinda's and what to expect in the future. Email is still the most used means for people to know what a business is doing. The most immediate and most talked about communications is Social Media. Facebook is something I really don't like but it is now a business necessity. If Facebook did not require a personal page in order to have a business page I personally would not be there. It is a great tool to share information in a hurry. When I post something on Facebook and you share my post with folks I'm not friends with and then they share and so on. That is an exponentially wider viewing audience than if I did everything alone. When I say I, I mean my page and Lucinda's page at the same time. Then there are the other social platforms for reaching out to people, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pintrest, You Tube, Snap Chat, and you are right, I have not named them all. I don't know all their names and don't come close to using a third of them. Actually, Facebook, Instagram and Pintrest are my limit, and I don't really use it often enough. If I were to use social media the way the B&B industry social media experts expect, I'd be doing social media most of the time. I don't have time to do the reservations and confirmations, etc, our Constant Contact, work around the B&B when Cindy asks me, stay on top of the emails and post things to Facebook, LinkedIn, Pintrest, and Instagram. My head is spinning just writing that sentence.

From that little spiral notebook to being overwhelmed in Social Media. Who would have thunk a B&B Innkeeper would have to be a computer whiz to stay in business. When we started Lucinda's Country Inn, I knew websites and email were needed, but nothing like what is thrust upon us now. What does the future hold, AI, Virtual Reality, Holographic Imagery or some other "wonderful" extension of someone's imagination.

....'Til Next Time

Daryl



Sunday, June 10, 2018

My, How Things Have Changed - Part 1

I've been thinking about how people find us, not how to get here, but how did and do they know about us, so they can make a reservation.

 In 2004 Cindy & I carried a little spiral notebook to take our reservations. We had a landline for our telephone and when we were out and about we used call forwarding to our Blackberry cell phone; as there was little reception in and around the foothills, but it was better than nothing. People heard about Lucinda's Country Inn from the Rack Cards we left at every winery who would let us, the Chamber of Commerce, and by driving by our cheap sign we had in the beginning. The public used Travel Guides to find lodging - AAA  travel books and many others like Fodor, Frommer and the Lannier Guides strictly about B&B's. You had to go to the libraries or AAA to get them. Maybe that's why we didn't need anything but our little blue note book; not many guests were coming to Lucinda's Country Inn the first couple of years. We heard about the B&B group in El Dorado County called the Historic Country Inns of El Dorado County. They had a brochure and a website listing all the members. We  knew we had to join to get those benefits. Our only problem was we built Lucinda's and it had no significant historic value, other than being the first new B&B built in the county. That was historic enough for the group to change its name to Bed & Breakfast Inns of El Dorado County (BBIEDC), just so we could join. (More about that in another post, someday.)

When we went to our first PAII (Professional Association of International Innkeepers) Conference in Chicago in 2004, just months before we opened Lucinda's Country Inn, there were two really hot topics in the seminars and at the trade show. At the trade show there were about a dozen vendors hawking the latest technology for the B&B owners to incorporate into their business. (Super Inn, Q4, Blizzard Technology, AT&T, Cellular Mobile, Verizon, to name a few. More about technology later.) The first was communications: telephones that were cordless so we could walk around the B&B and talk to our callers at the same time. Then the finest in cellular phones. The second, for those who had guts enough to get involved in computers was this thing called the internet. Hardly any B&B owner would ever dare turn over any information about their B&B guests to the "Internet" - that sacrilegious, spying apparatus. At several seminars the speakers were touting the best means of keeping in touch - "Call Forwarding". We laughed because we had used it for years. But most B&B's hadn't and if they did, where would they forward the calls to. They didn't have cell phones.

Our son, Sean, and I spent many hours discussing the ways to get involved with websites. I din't know how to set one up, but I knew a lot about what they provided. The California Franchise Tax Board used their website both internally (intranet) and for the public (internet), while I worked there. (In 1996, Governor Pete Wilson ordered all state agencies to become internet friendly, for public use.) I never worked on the IT side, so I never got the beginnings of what the Internet was, let alone how to set up and work with websites on the internet.  I had a desktop PC here at Lucinda's which I used primarily for word processing for our snail mail confirmations and for emails (Prodigy & AOL were the only options). I searched hundreds of websites for instructions on how to setup websites. Those vendors at the trade show wanted to setup, maintain and manage all aspects of any website they set up for us. Of course that would cost hundreds per month, which was a luxury Lucinda's could only dream about in 2004.

Sometime in 2005 I started gathering the email addresses of our reservations so I could send them their confirmation via email. It was a long letter detailing everything known to man and Lucinda's Country Inn. I wasn't very astute about the hospitality communications needed, so there were months of cumbersome letters and follow-up letters; where I was answering questions that I made people ask as a result of them reading their confirmation letter, "clearly explaining every detail they ever  needed". I finally developed a format of a confirmation letter; it was just as bad as the letters, but it sped things up getting the confirmations out. Over the years that has improved drastically. The confirmation process on both ends works very comfortably now. It probably could still use more improvement. We are still amazed at the number of people who never read their confirmations, let alone bring them so they would know where to park and find there room.

During that year we joined BBIEDC because that helped us get Lucinda's Country Inn out to the public way beyond what we were doing by ourselves, which wasn't much. I think subconsciously I really did believe in the "Field of Dreams".  We built it, but they weren't coming. We clearly needed a website of our own. I found Register.com that allowed, and even helped, me build our own website. It was functional, but not very attractive. Since I am a fairly decent photographer we started taking pictures for the website, but that was cumbersome and not very efficient. I didn't have a digital camera at that time so I had to scan the photos then uploaded them to our storage files, then transfer them to the website. After I got the digital camera all hell broke loose and technology exploded on the internet. Things began to change at rocket speed. Which meant I was able to go directly from the camera's flash card to the website. Our website improved drastically. It was looking good, but not much action from it. Google became the giant gorilla of search engines and dictated how websites were discovered when the public did a search for a B&B in El Dorado County. I learned about the front links, back links and secondary back links that helped get us higher in the organic search results. If this sounds gibberish to you. You're not alone. It took me years to understand the basics of Google's search engine results.

Of course we had our rack cards we placed in the Chamber of Commerce and the all the winerieries in El Dorado County including the eight here in Fair Play.

 Today things are light years different then when I felt like I was getting a handle on our website in 2007. I expanded, enhanced, glorified and modernized the website almost weekly. One component of search results remains the same today, new content gets you higher in the results. The big gorilla keeps changes their logarithms for searching the "net". That means about the time I get to know what is happening there's something different I have to know.  After being a member of BBIEDC for a few years we were at one of the monthly meetings when it was explained that there was a company named Webervations that had members of the group setup the Webervations booking engine, it cost about $100 a year. That meant we could now have people make reservations through our website. Yes they could still call, but if they were on the website they could book the room they wanted (thanks to all the great photos I took) without having to call us.

(There's more about the technological advances topic in the next post.)

....'Til Next Time

Daryl



Saturday, June 2, 2018

Day Trips From Lucinda's - North-South Road


I’ve been thinking about what should be the next day trip  – Ala; the North-South Rd. 

The drive is easy and beautiful. My job here is to tell you how to get there, not what to see and do while enjoying the drive. I don’t want to spoil it for you. It is up the mountain a little (in the winter & spring it can and probably is not passable) and there is really nothing but forest vistas to look at. That ain’t bad. Its about a two-hour drive, unless you stop to hike some of the forest service roads. They named it North-South Rd.because it runs North and South between Mormon Emigrant Trail, on the north, and Omo Ranch Rd. on the south.


 The top photo is taken along Omo Ranch Rd. looking southeast over the valley towards Highway 88 and Jackson, down the hill. The bottom photo is the start of the North-South Rd., to the left of the pine tree, on Omo Ranch Rd. looking north to Highway 50 and Lake Tahoe to the right. 

Start by leaving Lucinda’s to Fair Play Rd, turn left and go to the dead end at Omo Ranch Rd. Turn left to head up the hill toward Highway 88 (That’s another day trip adventure). Slug Gulch Rd. joins Omo Ranch Rd. in Omo Ranch at Indian Diggins School and just before the road narrows to a single lane for about ¼ mile. Continue up Omo Ranch Rd., leaving El Dorado National Forest, until you get to the left turn onto North-South Rd.


 The top photos is just to let you know you are headed in the right direction when you see this sign. The bottom photos lets you know North-South Rd. is just ahead on the left.

Stay on this mountainous, snaking road for about 15 miles. This part is a challenge for those who get car sick or are very nervous driving hair pin curves and rough roads. Sometimes at the same curve. There are many forest service roads that you can hike.


 The top photo is North-South Rd. going into the forest. The middle is one of the forest service roads you can hike. There are many other roads and/or driveways, which are private property. (You ever see the Burt Reynolds movie Deliverance?) The bottom photo is the bottom of North-South Rd. at PiPi Valley, adjacent to the campgrounds

From here you start uphill and it is very similar to the downhill drive, expect the final five miles or so of road has a better surface. Then you will eventually dead-end into Mormon Emigrant Trail.


This road is a great road and you can literally coast most of the way down the hill to Sly Park Rd. at Jenkinson Lake. At the lake there are bunches and bunches of trails for hiking.

Mormon Emigrant Trail runs between Sly Park Rd. and Highway 88, just five miles west of Silver Lake.

Once you get to Sly Park Rd. (You'll pass over the Jenkinson Dam twice before you get to the road.) turn left and continue down the hill about 10 miles. At Mt. Aukum Rd. (Holiday Market is on the left corner) turn left on Mt. Aukum for eight miles to Fair Play Rd. (Grey's Mart/Corner with the gas station is at that corner.)

You just completed about a 70 mile drive in no time at all. Hope you enjoy your drive as much as I enjoy my drives.

...."Til Next Time 

Daryl



Saturday, April 7, 2018

Things Are Changing Here In Fair Play - Wine Country TODAY !

I've been thinking: it has been awhile since I last updated things about Fair Play. I just looked in the blog archive and it was in 2014 that I wrote 3 posts about the Fair Play Wine history. Now things are different in three ways: here's the highlights.

The first being beautiful wineries have opened. Sentivo Vineyards & Winery opened two summers ago  (2016) at 7460 Fair Play Rd.; right across the street from Mastroserio Winery. Their grounds are arranged into outdoor "rooms", or sitting areas in different spots outside the tasting room.

Sentivo Vineyards

The tasting room is majestic and modern. The large room envelopes you with warmth and the comfort of home. Their vines were planted years ago so Sentivo did not have to wait for the vines to produce grapes and catch up to the tasting room, they did it the other way around. The vines & grapes have been waiting for the tasting room. It's a family operation and the winemaker is their neighbor. The vines for both Sentivo and their winemaker share the same hills in Fair Play.

E16 is in the old Winery By The Creek spot (corner of Perry Creek Rd. & Fair Play Rd. - just past the Pub at Fair Play); which moved to the Charles B. Mitchell property. Firefall is the original E16. Their vineyard is up Grizzly Flat and E16 uses the Zinfandel and Syrah grapes from there. Firefall closed the tasting room on Mt. Aukum Rd. several years ago, because they had young children and Robert and his wife both had other jobs and doing the vineyard, winery and tasting room: well it was a little much while raising two small children.  Robert is back with E16; named in honor of his start in the wine business. Today he uses the Firefall grapes, but has his Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays produced in the Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley areas. The Pinot Noir grape requires a completely different terroir than the Fair Play Appellation offers.

E16 Salon Tasting Room is quiet for a great wine experience of a lifetime.

If you ever visited the other winery that was in this location, well you'll not believe your eyes. Robert, Robin and Mick have transformed it into a spectacular venue to enjoy great wine and great company. Mick has been in and out of Fair Play for over 25 years. When we visited E16 the first time he was standing at the end of the bar and pointed at us as we pointed at him and we all said "I know you". Mick was the manager at 7-UP Ranch B&B many years ago when Cindy & I traveled from SoCal while looking to buy property and we stayed there many a night. The right folks are in E16 for you to taste great wines and kibitz with great people.

Right next to Sentivo Winery is another gem that was transformed from the rough into a great, beautiful tasting room, Element 79. They are right across the street from MV. The new (been open about two months) tasting room is currently the only one that lets you be in the vineyards with just a very short and easy walk from the patio/deck. The tasting room decor is an exquisite mix of rustic and modern. The ambiance for enjoying the flights of wine tastings make you comfortable and relaxed.

Element 79 deck, vineyard and tasting room.

Cindy and I have been there a few times already and fell in love with it on our first visit.  Their wines are quite delicious. One could easily go overboard when sitting on the deck with a couple flights of their tasteings, followed with a bottle of one of those just sampled. We know!! 

The second being; one of the wineries that had tastings by appointment only, Peter's Gate, has been sold. It was bought by a corporate structure that will use the grapes from Peter's Gate for the juice only. This conglomerate has bought or leased several pieces of property in and around Fair Play. None of us Fair Play folk, who normally think we are in the know, have a real clue as to what will happen with that enterprise. They bought the old Sierra Oaks Vineyards. Reality is we still don't know. Our rumor mill here in Fair Play, grinds out stories about what to expect from the conglomerate on a weekly basis, all proven to be false so far.

A sad thing is a the third point ; dkcellars and Palissandro are no longer in business. The good news is the dkcellars property has been sold and Palissandro has been sold - a new winery and tasting room will be going in there sometime "soon".. Sad that we don't have our friends close by anymore. There will be other changes here Fair Play in the coming months and years. The vast majority of the wineries and businesses have been doing "Their Thing" for 15 -25 years and they started "Their Thing" when they were in their late 40's and early 50's. That means some, or many, will sell and retire to "real retirement". I just want you to know about what's on the horizon. Life is always changing and some of it for the good.

.... 'Til Next Time

Daryl