Cheers! My Birthday Celebration with the Napa Valley Wine Country Tours

After losing my grandmother a few weeks before my birthday, I really needed to celebrate life. I know she would want me to do that. This year, I decided to ring in a new year of life in wine country. My soror traveled up from So Cal to visit. This would be her first time in Napa. I didn’t want to drive so instead, we bought bus tickets for the Napa Valley Wine Country Tours.

Let me tell you something, going on this bus tour was one of the BEST decisions I made. The Napa Valley Wine Country Tours bus isn’t just any bus. It’s a limo bus that looks like a VIP club lounge on wheels. We paid $119 for an 8-hour trip, visit to 4 wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties, continental breakfast and lunch. It was worth every penny. The tastings aren't covered in the bus fare, but they ran about $10-$25. Wineries won't charge you for tastings if you buy a bottle. I recommend this for tourists and any Bay Area locals who have folks visiting from out of town and want a short excursion to Nap…

Author Travels Europe to Trace the Roots of Dracula

Vampires aren't my thing. Actually, horror movies period aren't my thing. "Twilight" and other vampire media have unleashed serious fangdamonia (get it?) recently. The obsession is not a big surprise to me because there's been a huge cult-following of vampires for years. Hollywood and the book industry are just now figuring that out. I'm not biting because I'm a scaredy cat. I couldn't sleep in my bed for a week after I saw Fright Night back in 1986. I wasn't crazy about The Count from Sesame Street either.

Childhood fears aside, Cocoa Fly can't resist a good story. Author Steve Unger is a huge vampire fan and actually traveled to Europe to research the roots of the original blood-loving seducer Count Dracula. Unger shares his adventure through England and Romania in his book, "In The Footsteps of Dracula: A Personal Journey and Travel Guide."  He writes of his experience scouring graveyards and castles, while also providing travel information to readers also interested in packing up to explore the history and sites that inspired writer Bram Stoker's creation of the Dracula character. I met Unger recently at a random trip to Borders Bookstore. He was signing books and during our chat I became fascinated about his travels. I may not like vampires but I love a traveler. He has bicycled in Madrid and London. During his college years Unger was an exchange student at the historically black college Tuskegee University in Alabama. This was during the Civil Rights Movement and he was the only white student there at that time. Unger worked with other students, teaching farmers how to read. Traveling to dig up Dracula was the cherry on top for me.
Back to vampire stuff...Unger explains Bram Stoker built the Dracula character on real-life Romanian Prince Vlad Dracula The Impaler from the 1400's. The prince lived in a castle, was born in Transylvania and exercised harsh punishment on his enemies. Unger hiked to Prince Vlad's fortress and was a bit creeped out by the auroa:

*But let's get back to Poenari, the real Castle of Dracula. I had traveled to other remote, forbidding places. But never before or since have I felt the apprehension and isolation I did while climbing to Vlad Ţepeş' mountaintop fortress at Poenari. The forest was as quiet as a tomb; I can't recall hearing the song of even a single bird...Of all the places I explored that are associated with Vlad Ţepeş, only at Poenari did I feel that he was somehow still keeping watch. Thousands of boyars and their families had been force-marched there from Tărgovişte to die rebuilding the castle for Prince Vlad... And it was here that Prince Dracula's wife cast herself from the highest window of the eastern tower, choosing a swift death over the torture of the stake.

Fortress Ruins at Poenari*

Kind of eerie and cool. We usually don't associate history with pop culture, but Unger is giving historical context of the origins of vampire mythology. As someone who loves history, I find that pretty interesting. But I'll leave the vampire searching to him.

"In the Footsteps of  Dracula" is available on

If you're in California Steven P. Unger is holding booksigning at the following:

Saturday, October 16th, 2010 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Borders, 2765 E. Bidwell St., Folsom CA 95630 (916) 984-5900

Sunday, October 17th, 2010 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Copperfield's Books Petaluma, 140 Kentucky St., Petaluma, CA 95404 (707) 762-0563

*Parts of this article previously appeared in Romar Traveler and Patricia's Vampire Notes