It’s an inspiring story of a quest for freedom, high-stakes risk and love. This week’s column is dedicated to Ana Lelescu and her California Passport company, based in Morgan Hill. California Passport offers an upscale leisure travel experience for small groups of people anywhere from South San Jose to Big Sur.
All Ana Lelescu ever dreamed of was having a passport. Born and raised in communist Romania, Ana – along with the rest of Romania’s citizens – was not permitted free access to travel abroad. Ana and her husband Dan, married only four months, shared a desire to live their lives together in the United States.
In April 1992, Ana’s journey outside her country began when she was granted her first passport and a visitor visa to the United States. Dan was not allowed a similar passport, and even though the newlyweds might never see each other again, their burning desire for freedom outweighed this risk. After eight agonizing months of uncertainty, they were reunited in Chicago.
Dan and Ana traveled to California on a business trip where they found many similarities between California’s beautiful scenery and their Romanian hometown area. They moved and bought their first home in Morgan Hill, where they are raising their handsome 7-year-old son, Daniel, and became U.S. citizens.
Ana and Dan’s home includes reminders of their life in Romania. Intricate needlepoint made by relatives depicting scenes of Romanian life adorns their walls. Grapevines have been planted along the entire fence line.
“Any self-respecting home owner in Romania grows grapes in their yard and every family makes its own wine,” Ana said.
But it was last year that Ana had an epiphany: her father was diagnosed with cancer and it was his wish to visit Ana for the summer. Ana and her father went sight-seeing to Monterey, Carmel and other state parks along the way. They relaxed together while enjoying the beauty of the coast – taking it slow and enjoying each other’s company.
At the end of the visit, her 70-year-old father said he felt five years younger. His health not only improved, but his cancer went into remission. And that’s when Ana reevaluated her life.
Although she enjoyed her high-tech profession, she realized “the quality time you spend with loved ones is what matters most.” Ana decided she wanted to help other people slow down and discover the every day joys that surround us.
So, no stranger to risk and adventure, Ana launched California Passport – a travel service focused on personalized day trips that include fine dining, wine tasting and cultural events. All trips are aimed at improving people’s well-being and lifestyle. In addition to custom itineraries, California Passport offers an array of package deals that include meals and admission costs.
“Like our local winemakers who transform grapes into fine wine, I am inspired to offer our customers a high-quality, transformative experience – an experience that allows them to ‘Drive Less and Discover More,’ ” Ana said.
California Passport also makes charitable contributions to cancer research and senior citizen groups.
“We are so blessed and grateful for our lives here, and we want to give something back to our community,” she said.
Ana’s dream of owning a passport really did come true.
Whether you’re looking for a trip to our wineries, an event in San Juan Bautista or a hike and a picnic at Big Sur, Ana will help you plan the perfect day and take you there in relaxed comfort. For information, visit www.california-passport.com or call (408) 659-0050.
Ana’s Romanian Eggplant Spread
2 small eggplants (look for firm and shiny skins)
1 small onion, chopped coarse
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or olive oil)
Salt to taste
Either on the barbecue or under the broiler, grill the eggplants (with the skin on) until soft. When cool enough to handle, peel the grilled eggplant and rinse. Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Serve cold with crackers or sliced baguette.