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72 Hours in Tuscany

"Tuscany, land of fierce hates and wild loves and of limitless passions." - Oscar Fay Adams

This post could also be titled “48 Hours of Eating and Drinking Through Tuscany”.

Or…

"Food and Scenery Porn, Italian Style". 

Either way, sit back, put your feet up and get ready to virtually fall in love with Tuscany.

Ciao ciao!

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After 24 hours in Florence, we hopped into an itty bitty teeny weeny Fiat (Joel naturally had a complex about it) and began the two hour sunset drive to Buenconvento, a town in southern Tuscany.  

Thinking about visiting Tuscany?

Do yourself a favor and arrive during sunset.  Sure, you’ll have a delayed arrival thanks to the constant pulling over to take pictures, but I can’t imagine a more breathtaking welcome. 

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Our Tuscan home base was Villa Armena, a family run 16th century house that just opened it’s baroque doors last year. The location is excellent, right in the middle of all the key Tuscan southern towns, while the actual house sits an extra 10 minute drive from the main village through cyprus trees to the tippy top of a hill overlooking the two of the most beautiful parts of Tuscany…

  1. Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site landscape often featured in Renaissance paintings. 
  2. Crete Senesi, which consists of a range of hills and woods with a distinctive grey soil color that gives the landscape a “lunar” appearance. 

Close your eyes and envision driving to heaven. I imagine this is quite similar.

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Villa Armena truly is a family affair.  Dad is chef, Mom is the designer and concierge, Grandma is the sommelier, and doggy, Franco, is the welcome wagon.  With only ten rooms, it felt more like we were staying at a family friend’s country-home, not a hotel.  

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A peak outside our window at the purple sky and a deep breath in and I finally felt yes, this is vacation. 

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We kept the first night low key, taking in the scenery with a simple dinner at the hotel restaurant, which you can watch being cooked from the dining room. This meal turned out the be the most inventive of our trip, including this passion fruit pasta.

Totally bizarre and brilliant at the same time. 

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Fast forward to the following morning…

When you start a day in Tuscany with a view like this, you know it’s going to be good. 

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We crammed back into our little baby car, made our way down Villa Armena’s long drive way and began our official Brunello wine day, considered the king of Italian wines.

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Winery #1 was Ciacci and Piccolomini.  Frankly, I was happy to sit down and call it a day in these vineyards.  Postcard anyone?

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But, of course, there was wine to taste… (so good. so very good.)

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Olive oil to sample…

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And property tours to enjoy, including meeting a pack of hungarian wolves that the owner raises on site. Almost the same as dogs, right? They didn’t really get the whole “come here, good boy” thing. 

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Brunello wine is actually called Brunello di Montalcino, named after the fortressed hilltop village called, you guessed it, Montalcino

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It has all the makings of a quintessential Italian village….

Colorful shutters…

Piazzas galore…

A bell tower…

360 views…

Small enough to explore completely in less than two hours ….  

Did your heart skip a beat? Good, you’re human.   

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We had lunch at Osteria Osticcio Enoteca, a recommendation from Villa Armena.

Joel proclaimed their cappuccino the best he’s ever had, I proclaimed their chili pasta the best I’ve ever tasted, and we both proclaimed the view the best we’ve ever seen.  

It was also our cheapest meal in Tuscany. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a win, win, win, win. 

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Following Montalcino, we visited winery #2, Castiglion del Bosco. Although there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding this wine label, our guide treated us more like a friend and made us feel right at home, pulling up a chair and joining us for the tasting. 

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They also have a super secret underground den where I imagine world leaders convene to discuss important secret matters and smoke cigars. 

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We returned to Villa Armena to drop off our wine goodies, take a snooze, and prepare for the night’s adventure.

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On the itinerary? Siena, the main city in Tuscany, and a 30-minute drive north from our home base. 

Siena puts on a bit of a front by making you drive through some very serious imposing stone walls…

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But once you’re inside, there’s no doubt why this is considered the most famous medieval city.  It felt just like a charming Tuscan village, just on a significantly larger scale.

Grander piazzas. Grander churches. Grander Italy.image

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Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of where we ate, but it another recommendation from Villa Armena and again, they hit a home run. Although Siena felt the most touristy of the Tuscan destinations we visited, we were definitely the only tourists in this restaurant….always a good sign.

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Truffles were shaved in abundance…

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And Pici, a thicker version of spaghetti created in Tuscany, quickly became my favourite pasta of the trip. 

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Following the daily dessert gelato (“daily’ might be an understatement), we made our way back up through the Tuscan countryside.  In case you’re curious what that looks like at night, here you go.

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Although the next day started off dreary, the grey clouds somehow reinforced the golden valleys. This sublime landscape setting was the perfect backdrop for our Tuscan village disco tour.

One day, five Tuscan villages, GO!

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First up? Pienza.  This village is famous for three things:

1) Pope Pius II built it as “the ideal Renaissance town” in the 1600’s.

2)  It’s the birthplace of Pecorino cheese. The town literally reaks of cheese…in a good way.  

3) There’s  an abundance of flowers, a beautiful contrast to the tan stone architecture. Not a “famous” note, per se, but good to know.

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As Pienza is the hometown of Pecorino cheese, we did what one does and sat down to devour a plate of cheese washed down with a glass of red wine.

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La Taverna di Re Artu hit the nail on the head and served up the perfect cheese plate in the most charming setting in memory.

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At this point, the whole town had me dancing for joy.

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Alas, there were more towns to see. 

With Pienza in our rear view mirror, we made our way to town #2…image

Just as the sun started to poke our from behind the clouds.

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Joel proclaimed the views too distracting and he was close to accidentally driving us off the road.  These photos are evidence of that.

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Town #2 was Monticchiello. 

As with all the villages, we parked our car just outside of town, but unlike the other villages, we were in and out within 20 minutes. It’s certainly worth a quick visit, but it’s isolated beauty also means that there’s not much to see outside of a quick beautiful stroll. 

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We then set our sights on town #3, Montepulciano.   

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Although it was the most bustling of all the villages, Montepulciano was also the most touristy.  I guess you could say it was somewhere between a Siena and a Pienza. As it’s also very well known for their food (are there any Tuscan villages that aren’t?), there was plenty to taste and sample, all gratis.

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Down one particular tiny alley was a small wine tasting room full of visitors.

Why?

This charismatic man.

He begged everyone to join him for a taste of his wine, which he poured with liberal abundance. 

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He was also liberal with his hands….and lips…and used “being italian” as his excuse.

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Village #4 is a mystery.

We had a time to kill before our dinner reservations, so we decided to just pull into whatever village we hit first.

Whatever village this was, it was absolutely the most authentic. There was not a tourist in sight, let alone anyone who spoke English. 

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Still, we managed to communicate in the best way we know how…through the language of dog love.

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We stumbled upon one open cafe, came inside to dry off from the drizzling rain, pointed to a bottle of red wine, made a motion toward a glass, said grazie and pulled up a chair. 

When it came time to order a second glass, the waiter asked the other guests if anyone spoke English. No one did, so between us we managed to get that he found it unusual that we were drinking just wine. 

Flashback to a couple nights earlier when an Italian man told us how funny they find it that non-Italians drink by wine itself, that is to say, without food. In Italy, this seems to be a bit of a faux pas. If you want to drink alcohol, I guess you do that with beer? Or maybe even white wine? But a glass of red wine by itself is considered a bit odd.

Therefore, this sweet man voluntarily brought over a couple slices of thick bacon topped with pepper and and reminded us of “Italian protocol”.

Crisis averted.  

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The last visit of the day, village #5, was Montefollonico for dinner at 13 Gobbi, an excellent recommendation from another Tumblr.

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We entered, saw this, and knew we were in for a treat.

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We let the owner do the ordering, lent a helping hand cooking the pasta in a bowl of cheese, and said “yes, thank you” to the grappa and limoncello. 

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The next day was by far the most beautiful in Tuscany, but also our last.

Having explored the southern region, it was time to look toward the north and see what Chianti had to offer.

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As this was Chianti, a wine tasting was naturally in order, so we coincided it with a village pit-stop to compare and contrast.

Fonterutoli Winery was located in, once again, an itty bitty village. According to our lovely wine pourer, there are ”40, maybe 50 people” living here. We barely saw another soul.  Only horses.

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When the time finally came to wrap up our Tuscan tour, we did it right with a farewell lunch at Badia a Coltibuono where the views continued to be the main attraction.

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It may comes as a bit of the shock, but we had more pasta. 

We’re nothing if not consistent. 

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I sit here now, three weeks later, still in complete awe of Tuscany. I read this quote just before arriving and I can safely say that this is 100% true. If you’re considering a trip, don’t just pull the trigger and do it…do it as soon as possible.

"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life." - Anna Akhmatova

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Up next in our Italian adventure….72 hours in the rainbow colored sea towns of Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera. 

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Tour de France - Allez Allez

Did you know that Le Tour de France rides through the UK? 

I certainly didn’t. The whole “France” thing threw me for a loop.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that not only would the race come through London, but they’d actually zoom by just downstairs from my office. 

When the cyclists were 28 km away, a couple of us popped downstairs to catch a glimpse of the action. 

We passed by our office neighbor, Buckingham Palace…

And miraculously found a teeny smooshed spot somewhat near the front (i.e. three rows back). 

I noticed some parents boosted their children on their shoulders, so I made a silly effort to do the same.

More failed attempts were made to get Lady to notice the spectacle of the situation…

But finally, as the cyclists sped by at 40 mph, she took notice.

What can I say…we really made the most of our first Tour de France experience. 

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24 Hours in Florence

"In Paris, you learn wit, in London, you learn to crush your social rivals, and in Florence you learn poise." - Virgil Thompson. 

Although I visited Italy twice earlier this year, both trips were business related, lasted a matter of hours, and were mostly spent in office buildings.

As such, when I arrived in Italy earlier this month, it not only felt like the first time…..

It felt long, long overdue.

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Joel and I landed early evening in Florence and with only an hour to spare before dinner, Joel and I did what we do best….

We got lost, but fortunately stumbled upon a beautiful arcade with live music, which ended up being quite the find.

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It was quickly time for dinner at La Giostra, a restaurant that was recommended to me by five separate people for the food (their pear ravioli is infamous for a reason!), the ambience (twinkle lights EVERYWHERE), and the characters that run it. 

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We eased the wait by befriending the bartender and toasting our Italian adventure with aggressive pours of Kir Royal and prosecco (complimentary for all guests). 

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Inside we met character #1, the chef who kept a watchful eye over every detail the entire night. 

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And Character #2, the very eccentric co-owner Dimitri d’Asburgo Lorena, who just so happens to be a Habsburg prince.  

Very, very interesting…

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The complimentary items at La Giostra don’t stop with prosseco. They also serve up gratis crostini.  

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Then there was ooey gooey burrata… 

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And what became the first of 100 consecutive meals of pasta. (only half serious…)

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La Giostra ties up the meal with a bow, errr, bottle of limoncello….again, gratis. 

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Feeling perfectly limoncello-y, we wandered around Il Duomo di Firenze.  It was completely quiet, as if you could hear the drop of a pin. How strange and lucky to have this treasure all for ourselves…even if only for a couple moments.  image

Just a hop, skip, and jump away, we returned to our rented flat, where we called it a night. 

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The following morning was a wee bit rough (thank you very much, endless limoncello), especially as I had to wake up extra early to knock out a couple hours of work.

I was very grateful for our rented apartment, which not only boasted a phenomenally central location, but also was extra spacious and comfortable, particularly when working remotely. If you’re looking for a vacation apartment in Florence (sleeps up to four), I’d be happy to share the recommendation. 

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Mid-morning, we poked our head out of our apartment to be greeted by Il Duomo di Firenze, and begin our task to see as much as possible. image

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First up? The Arno River, which if you look closely across, you can see where Kim and Kanye recently got married. I’d add in Joel’s commentary here, but I like to keep this blog free from profanity :)

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And then, the Ponte Vecchio bridge, filled with jewellery and art shops, although it was butchers that originally occupied the space.

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Just north of Ponte Vecchio is ‘Ino, a teeny cheese, meat, and panini shop that several friends hailed as “the best sandwich ever”.  While, I wouldn’t agree that it was “the best”, it was definitely great, but the meat and cheese plate was better. In fact, I brought home some of their chili sauce.

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Following lunch, we wandered through piazza after piazza, just soaking in all in renaissance history.

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Like a moth to the flame, Joel somehow spotted the random Gucci gift shop (not the regular Gucci store).

If you’re ever looking for super expensive, questionable gifts, this is the spot.

Oven mitts covered in the Gucci logo? Check. 

Leather postcards  covered in the Gucci logo? Check. 

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I had a very successful stroll through the San Lorenzo leather market and managed to haggle a beautiful brown cross-body purse down from €75 to €20. 

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Followed by a wander through the original Eataly, Central Market. 

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Gelato at Bar Vivolvi

This was my Mom’s favourite spot on her last visit and she hit the nail on the head. Although the gelato during the rest of our Italian trip was delicious, nothing could compare to the wonder that is Bar Vivolvi gelato. 

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Refuelled, it was time to tackle the walk up Il Duomo, which was no longer our own quiet retreat. It was now flooded with visitors as a dark, ominous storm moved in.image

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However, we instead climbed the Bell Tower, which is part of the same building and a similar height to the Duomo, but this way, the beautiful Duomo was part of the view.

The storm hit just as we ascended and threw in hail, thunder, and downpour rain just for good measure. 

It made for an exhilarating climb with breathtaking views at each level.

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We got properly soaked at the top, but it was worth it. Very worth it.

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There was a much quicker, and wetter, walk down….

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Where we then walked the one block back to the apartment, grabbed our bags, hopped in our car rental, and sped off through the tiny streets and crowded piazzas, with Joel’s anxiety growing around every turn.

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Would I recommend spending only 24 hours in Florence? Probably not, but I’d say we ticked off a lot from our varied to-see list.

And most importantly, the city jaunt was the perfect kick off to our Italian country and sea adventure. 

Up next? The golden valleys, mountaintop towns, and rolling vineyards of Tuscany. 

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Postmodern JukeBox

I’ve spent the last 24 hours listening to this band on repeat. They take current pop songs and reimagine them in a vintage era.

Genius!

My favorites include…

Miley Cyrus We Cant Stop 1950’s Doo Wop

Iggy Azalea Fancy 1920’s Flapper

Pompei Mad Men Style

Ellie Goulding Burn 1960’s Girl Group

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Happy 7th Birthday Lady Dixie!
You may be middle aged in dog years, but you’re still a young sassy pup to me.

Happy 7th Birthday Lady Dixie!

You may be middle aged in dog years, but you’re still a young sassy pup to me.

Tags: Lady Dixie
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The 22 Most British Sounding Words in the English Language 
My coworkers shared this article with me along the prompt: 
"You need to try and insert as many of these words into daily conversation AS NATURALLY as possible."
Challenge accepted.  

The 22 Most British Sounding Words in the English Language 

My coworkers shared this article with me along the prompt: 

"You need to try and insert as many of these words into daily conversation AS NATURALLY as possible."

Challenge accepted.  

Tags: London
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Day Trip to Cambridge

Whenever I have a rare weekend in London, it’s hard to sit still.

I want to see everything. Explore everything. Even if I tried, I’d never experience it all.

And that’s only London.

What about all the fascinating towns just a quick train ride away?

It’s one of these “what new place will we see today?” conversations that led Joel and I to the university town of Cambridge. 

Want a quick spoiler? It’s now one of my favourite UK places I’ve visited to date. 

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First things first: logistics.

Trains leave from King’s Cross to Cambridge at least every hour, but here’s a tip - order your National Rail ticket online ahead of time and you’ll save some £.  

Then sit back and enjoy scenic English countryside journey for 50 minutes or so before arriving at your destination.

Once you’re off the train, it’s a 20 minute walk into the center of town, but you’ll be graced with beautiful architecture and pockets to scout out en route.

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Although Cambridge is most well-known for its university (founded in 1209), it’s very much a thriving little city (or big town?) and has adapted the nickname, Silicon Fen - a play on Silicon Valley - because it’s at the heart of the UK’s high tech industry. 

As a result, the town is a mix of small old-school shops and streets filled with every mainstream high street shop and restaurant imaginable. While Cambridge leaves you with a small and quaint feeling, it also offers lots of bigger city amenities.  As a side note, here are some fun facts I learned during our visit:

  • Cambridge has the highest level of cycle use anywhere in the UK. 25% of residents travel to work by bike and 47% travel by bike at least once a week. 
  • In 2010, Forbes listed Cambridge as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. 
  • Over 40% of the workforce have a higher education qualification. Not surprising. 

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As you make your way through the town, the main street is lined with shops and cafes on one side and the “Colleges” on the other side. 

To say it’s stunning would be an understatement. 

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Once you’ve explored the town and seen the front of the colleges, it’s time to see the backs….and there’s only one way to do that.

Punting

You have two options when punting…

1) Rent your own and do all the hard work yourself

2) Get a spot in a public punt and have a lovely student guide you along the river and college backs.

As it was our first visit, we opted for the latter so we could actually learn more about what we were seeing.

Side note: Again, order your tickets online in advance and you’ll save some £. There’s plenty of options (just use your friendly pal Google), but we went with Scudamores. 

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Not only did we visit on a weekend, but it was also warm (by UK standards that means 65) and sunny (a rare, celebratory event).

This resulted in a bit of a punting traffic jam, but our adorable university student guide navigated us down the river, hissing at all the amateurs blocking the route. 

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We spent the next hour or so soaking up the 800+ years of history and idyllic scenery. 

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It was at this point that I wish we had reserved our own punt, brought along a couple of friends, and piled the punt high with picnic goodies and jugs of Pimm’s. That’s definitely the plan next time. 

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Or maybe we’ll take a cue from these folks who found a punt that serves a Thai meal on board their chauffeured punts. 

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Once we hopped off, we made a couple furry friends, treated our inner 10 year old selves with a strawberry ice cream cone and called it a day.

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Next up? Visit Oxford for a true compare and contrast. 

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Have you been to Tuscany, Cinque Terre or Florence?

Have any tips or recommendations?

I’d love to see them! Either leave a comment or send them to CaseyCulture@gmail.com. 

Thanks a million!

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48 Hours in Prague

"The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks." 

"Prague was a portal between the life of the good and … the other. A city of dark magic."

"If European cities were a necklace, Prague would be a diamond among the pearls." 

Besides a few literally references, historical events and the above imaginative quotes, I didn’t know much of what to expect from Prague circa 2014. 

Here’s what I discovered in 48 hours….

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I used to consider Paris the most beautiful city in the world (from what little I’ve seen). Prague now might possibly hold my vote. 

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Even with the unrelenting rain, I was immediately under Prague’s spell. There’s something fascinating and bewitching, and maybe even a little bit dark, that drew me in to the city’s pulse.

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We took refuge from the storm under a canopy next to the extremely popular Charles Bridge.  It’s here where I had my very first Budvar, the “original Budweiser” beer. (Read all about the lawsuits here.)

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We also dug in to some very traditional fare…goulash (not pictured), dumplings, and cabbage - oh my! 

I was a fan, but only for a meal.  The heaviness of Czech cuisine is not something that agreed with any of us more than once or twice.

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For the next couple hours, we took to the streets, battling our way through the mobs of tourists at each of the major points. 

Side note: Prague is obviously a major destination, but I was extremely surprised by the number of tourists, particularly in the pouring rain. The number rivalled Paris, London and New York and made certain areas (i.e. the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square) slightly overwhelming.  

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At some point, our foursome managed to get lost, which was the best possible course of action as fate led us to quieter streets that ascended toward the Prague Castle. 

As we began the climb, we turned around and my heart skipped a beat at Prague’s beauty.

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And then we’d climb more and turn around again…

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And again…

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And again…

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Prague’s beauty felt surreal. 

The red roofs, the spires, the green domes, the history hanging in the mist…

I digress.

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We admired Prague Castle from the outside… 

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But quickly moved on to the next priority…

Trdelník.

What the crepe is to Paris, trdelník is to Prague.

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With roots in Czech Republic, Hungary, Transylvania, Slovakia and Austria, it’s a sweet pastry cake made from rolled dough that’s wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar, cinnamon or walnuts.

Joel found it a bit bla, but I loved it for it’s simplicity. 

It’s important that you don’t get suckered into mediocre trdelník.  Find a spot that’s making and serving it fresh, not letting it sit there and get stale.  I had one that was like the latter later in the trip and was terribly disappointed. 

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The rest of the afternoon found us continuing to “get lost”, becoming totally transfixed by the city’s architecture, colors, and mystery on both sides of the Vltava River.

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I was particularly excited to visit Josefov, the Jewish quarter, but was surprised that besides a couple synagogues, the area is now focused more on high end shopping.  Considering the country’s history in WWII, I had expected more and was disappointed. 

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Following a disco nap, we made our way back over the Charles Bridge in search for dinner at Kampa Park, the lit up terrace on the river in the photo below.

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The views couldn’t be beat and the food was phenomenal.

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In keeping with the season, we noticed many restaurants were serving “Asparagus Menus”.  I picked white asparagus, a poached egg and morels.  The meal is still making waves in my culinary memory. 

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It was time to call it an early night, even though the view from our rental flat was trying to lure us back into the night.

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But we awoke bright and early for our Czech countryside adventure.

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First things first - we popped out of our flat. (if you’re visiting Prague and want a housing recommendation that’s unique and authentic, yet modern and updated, shoot me an email.)

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We stayed right in the center of it all around the Old Town Square, which on Monday at 8am was still oh so quiet….for once.

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Joel’s mom found the perfect cafe for breakfast, Bakeshop, located right in the middle of Josefov. 

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In keeping with the neighborhood’s Jewish history, I dove head first into my ancestry with an everything bagel and lox spread, similar to what I ate growing up almost every weekend. It was important to load up on carbs because….

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The rest of the day was spent biking 21 miles around the Czech countryside through villages and along the river with Biko Adventures - the absolute highlight of our trip. 

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We began to see a whole different side of the country.

In some towns, the houses were grand.

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In some, they were traditional.

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In some, they were ultra modern.

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We passed by a school trip of kiddies, 

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And tried to keep cool in the shade.

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But the sun was hot and strong and there was only one way to hydrate…

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Marek, our guide, took us for a Budvar break.  This is why having a guide is key…there’s no way we would have found this remote little spot and seen what daily life was like for people in this village. 

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After one beer, I was perfectly hazy and ready to move onward. Within a couple more miles, we reached our reward….

Karlštejn Castle. 

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One word: magnificent. 

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Marek had one more treat for us…

A meal at a middle of nowhere restaurant for what?

What else - dumplings!

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Having completed the 21 mile bike ride, our group hopped on the local train and returned to Prague with weary legs, sore butts and full hearts.

We couldn’t be bothered to move much (see words above), so we showered, changed, and took our sore butts out for more Budvar a stone’s throw away from our flat (literally) in Old Town Square, which had done a 180 from that morning’s scene. 

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The cafes were packed…

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And the street performers were aplenty. 

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The seasonal “Asparagus Menu” theme continued that night at Mlýnec, a restaurant that is trying it’s very best at modern Czech cuisine. 

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The Vltava River views continued as well. 

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It was that night, our last night, that the mysterious power of Prague took over. We spent the remainder of that evening at Hemingway Bar, the perfect hideaway to have some fun with a local delicacy…

Absinthe. 

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Let’s just say the rest of the night was fun. Very, very, fun.

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As we wandered Prague’s streets in the dark, it was impossible to ignore the history. The stories. Imagining what was hidden behind each mysterious door.  

Or maybe it was the absinthe? 

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Until we finally found our own door and said goodnight. 

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With only a couple of hours before our flight, I chose to spend my last few moments in Prague alone. 

I wanted to get lost.

Even more lost.

And so I did.

There was the market…

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The cafes awaiting crowds…

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The Jewish cemetery that required a second, prolonged visit.

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The trdelnik shops that kept catching my eye…and tastebuds. 

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The musicians…

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The Vltava River…and the views surrounding it.

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48 hours later, it was all over and I left believing this quote with all my heart and soul.

"If European cities were a necklace, Prague would be a diamond among the pearls."  

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72 Hours in Ireland - West Coast

There’s a whole world out there to explore.”

While traveling continues to move full steam ahead, I’m loving every single minute, but still adjusting to the juggling act.  

Being on the go…

Working…

Resting when possible (I’ve become a pro airplane/train napper…)

Embracing the exhilaration…

Living impulsively….

Acknowledging irresponsible decisions…

Knowing when it’s time to just be quiet…

With that said, documenting the whirlwind hasn’t been as timely as I would like, but let’s jump back in, shall we?

I visited Ireland for the first time last Autumn and checked the south coast off my list: Cork, Ballycotton, Kinsale, and Castlemartyr

I thought I had seen the Emerald Isle’s most beautiful coast line. 

I was wrong.

Joel and I arrived early Thursday morning and met his parents who had just finished touring the northern counties.  

First stop - a drive from Shannon to the small village Adare for a quick coffee/tea break.  It was en route, convenient, and adorable, but certainly not a must-see destination. 

Side note: I made sure to proudly point out all the “Casey” shops, cafes, and stores along the way.  

Then it was on to Killarney, our adventure “hub”, to unload and refuel. 

A traditional pub, along with a traditional irish seafood chowder and traditional Irish Guinness, fit the bill.

Oh so traditional. 

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All set to be one with nature, we ventured to Killarney National Park, a stunning park featuring foggy ranges…image

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Waterfalls…

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It’s very own stairmaster.

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All topped off with a castle, a.k.a. Muckrose House. 

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Before we knew it, we had gone 8 miles (give or take).  Beautiful scenery will do that to you. 

We returned to Killarney…

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And popped into Bricin for dinner, which with the ambiance and exceptionally warm service felt more like being at a friend’s home. (Image below from their site.)

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They’re famous for their “Killarney Boxty”, which is a Celtic pancake/meat dish and carries with it the local rhyme:

Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan, if you can’t bake boxty sure you’ll never get a man.”

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We had big plans for Friday.

Big. Huge.

It was time to explore the Dingle Peninsula, once cited as ‘the most beautiful place on earth’ by the National Geographic and voted among the top 100 destinations in the world by Trip Advisor. 

Not too shabby, eh?

The route to get there was pretty easy on the eyes, too.

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Once we arrived in Dingle (an hour drive north west of Killarney), we picked up a couple of bikes and began the 40km adventure around the coast.

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Just as the rain arrived, we stopped for lunch at Skippers, a quintessential cottage serving seafood plucked straight from the sea a couple steps away. 

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We loaded up on oysters (a local delicacy. I had no clue Ireland was such a hotspot for oysters, but makes total sense.)

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Scallops with their roe still attached, a vision I’m unaccustomed to, but one that is salty and yummy and oh so good.

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And mackerel with dijon sauce. One word - heaven on a plate.

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Seeing at this was such a quaint little place, credit cards were a no no.  We didn’t have enough Euros and with no sign of life for miles away, the owner suggested we simply “drop off” the money in town later.

My jaw hit the table and I looked at him only to mutter “That is too nice. How does a person like you even exist?”  Such sweetness and trust is quite a lesson. 

Fortunately, he also gladly welcomed an alternative, our melting pot of bills - dollars, pounds, and euros.

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The rest of the Dingle Peninsula went a little something like this…

A Game of Thrones-esque cliff….

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Making friends with the local sheep.

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And birdies.

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And photobombing rams.image

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And coastline as far as the eye could see.

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We ran into a wee bit of a hiccup along the route and had to switch from bike to car, but I’m tremendously thankful we did as the uphill finish looked treacherous. 

Europe Hotel was just the ticket to revive our weary legs and thirst for Irish whiskey.

The foggy mist remained over Lough Leane in Killarney (meaning “Lake of Learning”) as we tucked in for the night ahead.

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Eager would be an understatement to describe my feeling about getting into their brown bread, an Irish staple I had to have at every single meal.

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I digress.

I was eager to follow the Irish saying: “Here’s to a long life and a merry one. A cold pint and another one” so we curled up in their library to enjoy some traditional Irish music (or “trad”, as they call it) and warm up by the fire with Jameson. 

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Saturday was all about the Ring of Kerry, the extremely popular driving route on the peninsula just south of Dingle.

Spoiler: I think Dingle is better, although Ring of Kerry does put up a strong second half.

Per usual, we befriended our fair share of livestock.

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But it was windy.

As in, really, really windy.

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In fact, staying in the car was the preferred course of action.

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Lest your forget what Irish roads are like, here is example A.

Dontcha just love the one lane curves?

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We went off the official “ring” to explore St. Finian’s Bay and Valentia Island, one of my favourite parts.

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Remember what I wrote earlier about a “strong finish”? 

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But the wind remained in effect.

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Lunch was fish and chips and cider in one of the only handful of town along the loop.

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Six hours later, the ring was complete and there was only one way to round out our last night in Ireland.

More oysters.

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48 hours later, I left the Celtic island with even more luck of the Irish. 

Tags: Travel Ireland
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Love dogs and want a good laugh? 

The Pawfect Match. 

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48 Hours in Bath, UK

Jane Austen’s sometime home…. 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site….

Home to Britain’s only natural thermal spa, the Roman Baths….

A popular country retreat for the country’s elite during the Georgian era…. 

This is how most people know Bath, the small city just 100 miles west of London.  I discovered this and so much more during my 48 hour visit.

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I wrapped up Friday at work and hopped on the train at Paddington Station. Less than two hours later, I arrived in Bath with just enough time to grab a late dinner of pizza and chicken at Rotisserie Chicken, just off the main street. 

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At 9pm, the city was mostly dead, leaving only us to wander the streets.

Two hours later when we emerged from dinner, we were met with a completely different scene as the streets were flooded with young 20-somethings popping from pub to pub. I’m making my own conclusions that Bath must be the “going out” area for local towns. 

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We called it a night and woke up bright and early to a breakfast spread of soft-boiled eggs, croissants, jams and a full schedule ahead.

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First up? The famous Roman Baths

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The self-guided tour took just under an hour and was very eye-opening….

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The Baths were created around 60 AD during Roman occupation and were used for the follwing three centures as a full-on spa - hot baths, warm baths, cold baths, steam rooms.

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Following the tour, I snuck into the Pump Room for a hot second to see it in all it’s glory.

They’re famous for regency-era afternoon tea, although known more-so for their ambiance than the actual tea and goodies.  

It was just beautiful. 

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For lunch, we ventured through the Mendip Hills to the Somerset countryside…

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To scope out The Pig, the recently opened country estate that’s part of the well-known Pig hotel series. 

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When we arrived, my inner Jane Austen fan girl was jumping for joy as it felt like walking into the pages of her book.

In reality, The Pig is nothing like the stuffiness of traditional English Estates. Although it’s a grand, stately home, modern updates contribute to their “home grown” theme and the whole place exudes a very welcoming, calm, relaxed vibe, as if you were spending the weekend with a family friend, not the Duke and Duchess. 

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The staff greeted us very warmly in their soft pink shirts and welcomed us passed the rows of Wellies…

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Through to the library for drinks and Piggy Bits, bite-sized noshes influenced by pigs, of course. 

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While brainstorming future business ideas, Joel and I sipped on The Pigs’ Bloody Mary, which might very well be the best I’ve ever had thanks to the perfect balance of tomato and spicy, not too thick, not too thin consistency, and their rosemary-infused vodka, plucked straight from their garden.  

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We ventured down the hallway through to their dining room, a Victorian greenhouse. 

Although The Pig is a hotel, they actually consider themselves “really a restaurant with rooms.”

As their website states, everything is driven by the gardener, forager and chef in the kitchen garden and their micro seasonal menu takes “local” to a hole other level, similar to Blue Hill in New York (read about my experience here and here.) 

What can’t be grown in their gardens, such as fish, must come from within a 25 mile radius. 

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Simply put, everything we ate was perfect, but instead of posting hundreds of photos of our four course lunch, I’ll share the highlights…

A Scotch Egg elevated with quail eggs and tender pork.

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Kentucky Fried Wild Rabbit - just like KFC, but better….much, much better.image

Piping hot rice pudding with blackberry compote.

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All washed down with a bottle of rose and views of Spring about to bloom.

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Once our bellies were full, we were curious to learn more about the “local” aspects of our meal.

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Tom gave us a tour (ask for him - he’s wonderful) of the gardens, greenhouse, smoke house, fruit cages, wild flower orchards, and the lovely animals. 

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As The Pig only opened in March and they began planting last summer, the produce are all at different levels of growth, a true demonstration and transparency of their efforts.  

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Tom encouraged us to not only explore with our eyes, but to use all our senses.  

We tasted this baby cauliflower…

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And I oh so elegantly stuffed herbs into my mouth. 

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Then it was time to meet the main crew at The Pig…..the pigs, Darcy and Truffle. 

P.S. Only in Bath would a pig be named Darcy. So thoughtful. 

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These two are the estate pets, not food, a notion the duo fully understand as was evidence when trotted up to us, eager for pets and snuggles.

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My desire for a pet piggy has now sky rocketed. 

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The chickens, just like Darcy and Truffles, believe they’re pets, and begged for attention, something I’ve never experienced previously with poultry. 

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Remember that Scotch Quail Egg from earlier?  We saw them being laid in action right before our very eyes. 

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To describe the Pig’s deer park in one word would be…

Majestic. 

Breathtaking.

Humbling.

Nature really captures this city girl’s heart.

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Following our adventures, we retreated back into the library and cozied up on the velvet sofa for a late afternoon drink and cuddle, desperately not wanting to leave the Pig’s country oasis and already plotting a return stay. 

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But alas, it was time to venture back into town…

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For an early evening exploration, scoping out the tiny street and sweet shops of Bath, this time with Lady in tow.

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Still suffering from the best kind of food coma and country adventure, we called it a night.  I was so tuckered out, I passed on dinner and was sound asleep by 8pm.

Sunday morning kicked off with croissants and pain au chocolat in bed.

One each.

I was simply making up for the previous night’s lack of dinner.

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We moseyed toward the center of town for an al fresco caffeine pick me up at Society Cafe, which a local friend dubbed “the best coffee in Bath”.

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The morning was all about seeing The Royal Crescent, a sweeping row of terraced houses and one of the most famous examples of Georgian architecture in the UK. 

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Lady fit right in, no?

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She wasn’t in a “take in all the beauty” mood.

She preferred a good old-fashioned race.

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Continuing west, we arrived at Royal Victoria Park, or “Vicky Park” as I overheard a couple people say, spending hours getting lost and making new four-legged friends in the botanical gardens. 

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We met our first long-haired basset hound - it was love at first sight. 

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We refuelled at Marlborough Tavern, a quintessential English pub with an outdoor patio made for spring days. 

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Lady befriended more locals, as she does.

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As we sunk our teeth into a Sunday Roast with all the trimmings.  The parsnips and cabbage were particularly tasty. 

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Fate found us that afternoon strolling by the Jane Austen museum. As much of a fan that I am, I didn’t feel the need to subject Joel to such torture.  

The Gift Shop was a whole other story.

I left Joel and Lady outside and popped in for a quick peek. 

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As the sun began to set on this Georgian paradise, our 48 hours in Bath came to a close…

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In true form, we hopped on the train back to London and spent the next two hours planning our next adventure.

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Tags: Travel BathUK
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72 Hours in Geneva

Originally, 72 hours in Switzerland was meant to be filled with Spring skiing in Verbier. 

But alas, it was not meant to be.

First there was a spike in temperature, followed by a customs mishap with our ski gear….

We took the hint and made it a Geneva weekend instead thanks to our thoughtful hosts, Ashley and Bo.

We arrived Thursday evening and filled up with pizzas at Luigia, my dream pizza come to life.  It wasn’t too thick or too thin….it was just right. 

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The next morning, I knocked out as much work as possible from Bo + Ashley’s flat in the Eaux-Vives neighborhood.  

The view didn’t hurt.

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By lunch, it was time for an adventure.

We picked up a couple baguettes sandwiches to eat on top of Mont Salève, but once we arrived at the base, we weren’t allowed up.

Le sigh.

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Instead, we made our way to Lake Geneva to chow down by the water.

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Followed by a walk up to the Old Town…

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Where we could easily view The Alps’ bleak ski conditions.

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We circled our way through the tiny streets, steep stairs, and hidden courtyards in Old Town, taking in all of the medieval beauty. 

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Although the hike never happened, we covered significant Geneva terrain that afternoon and rewarded ourselves with a little afternoon delight in the form of crepes and rose.

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Some initial thoughts from that first day…

The Dr. Seuss looking trees with stubby branches are around every corner. They’re one part unique, one part creepy, and will end up looking beautifully manicured when they’re in full bloom.

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One thing you must know before going to Switzerland is that the regions are very different depending on if they’re closer to the French, German, or Italian borders. Due to it’s proximity to France, Geneva is very much a French city in language, culture, and personality.  Parfait!

Public transportation works on the honor code. This means that you don’t scan a ticket to ride the bus, but in the very off moment that the police come on board and check tickets (which they didn’t for any of the 5 or so times we rode the bus), you’ll need to show proof of purchase or pay a fine. 

Ashley and Bo selected a phenomenal spot for Friday night’s dinner: La Crise.  Although it’s an exceptionally lively and quirky restaurant, the food is classic French and dishes change frequently.  

And the wine flows very freely. Something we learned the hard way and had me doing hand stands later in the evening.

I ended up losing all my photos. So there’s that.

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Saturday we arose ready to see the Swiss countryside. 

First stop?

Montreux, situated an hour and change north at the tip of Lake Geneva at the foot of The Alps. 

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There was a bit of a Spring explosion along the water…

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And the fog misted from the mountains.

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Then it was castle time.

We spent a couple hours exploring Chateau de Chillon.  It’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting, what with the lake and the mountains… 

Felt a bit like the Little Mermaid castle.

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It’s quite a deceptive castle.  There were two or three times when I thought we had seen it all, only to be surprised by another secret passageway or back staircase that took us to more hidden rooms.

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We made a quick stop in the town of Laussane for…McDonalds.

I can’t even believe I’m typing these words, but it was the nicest McDonalds experience of my life.

Sudden hunger hit us hard en route back to Geneva and we had heard such great stories about their McDonalds being so different, so good, so….je ne sais quoi.

So we went for it and ended up spending 5x the amount we would have in the states for what is apparently locally sourced, “high end” McDonalds.

I’m still shaking my head with guilt.

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It must’ve hit our stomachs hard because we fell into a food coma on the train fairly quickly, missing out on all the beautiful sights.

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Following some brief R&R in Geneva, it was time to hit the town.

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As this was our first trip to Switzerland, Joel and I had one requirement: fondue.

Once again, our hosts hit the nail on the head with the very traditionally Swiss Restaurant Les Amures, one of the oldest in Geneva. 

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We didn’t stray from restaurant’s theme - it was a super Swiss evening.

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Naturally, there was wine, but there was also cured meats and raclette, a Swiss dish based on heating cheese and scraping off the melted part onto potatoes.

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Then it was on to the main event…

I could barely contain my excitement for all the cheese.

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When the fondue is almost all gone, you’re greeted with “religieuse”, the crusty cheese that remains at the bottom of the pot.  I learned that this is the real deal, the creme de la creme, the big cheese, if you will.

With our bellies full of cheese, we called it a night.

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On Sunday, most of Geneva shuts down.  

Sure, everyone is out and about at the lake, in the park, or at the market, but shops and restaurants take the day off.

We found one of the handful of cafes that is actually open, Le Coupe de Giraffe, and tucked in for the most simply perfect breakfast “assiette”, include a hardboiled egg, quiche, toast, orange juice, jam, butter, and brownie. 

Superb.

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Sunday’s weather was the best of the trip, so we did what we do best….we walked.

And walked some more.

First up? Lake Geneva because, well, when in Geneva….

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We spent time reading and people watching in the park (fun fact: did you know Geneva is called “the city of parks”?)

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The park was filled with families..

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And people who were minutes away from making families of their own.

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Then we simply explored the neighborhoods.

It’s so funny how different all the buildings looked with the shining sun and blue sky….how vibrant they seemed.

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We also went to the farmer’s market and stocked up for what was an epic dinner.

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We made out pretty well.

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Sunday night wound down in the best possible way with a beautifully prepared meal by Bo, some mindless TV, and a good night’s sleep before an early wake up call to return to London.

Sure, I didn’t get a chance to check off skiing in The Alps from my bucket list, but our first trip to Switzerland was a wonderful entree filled with new friends, new memories, and an excitement to return soon.

Plus, the Alps will still be there next winter!

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