Text

72 Hours in Cinque Terre (and the Italian Riviera)

Photos are the only way,

To hold on to what you knew,

Because the moments they show never change,

When the people in them do. - E.H.

<Note: My travel posts are a detailed account of my experiences.  I’m tremendously grateful for every opportunity I have to visit somewhere new….in fact, I cherish it, which is why I write these for my friends and family, but also for myself, as I want to have a place to record these memories.  Not in the mood for lots of photos or a play-by-play of my travels? Ciao!>

After our visit to Tuscany, I didn’t think Italy could get any better….

And then it did. 

Two hours west of Florence is a seaside strip of villages, each seemingly in competition with the other to see which can be the most colorful and charming.

Welcome to Cinque Terre. 

We arrived just in time for what would end up being one of the top three dining experiences of my life. 

image

La Ruota sits on a cliff in Moneglia, a town just north of the Cinque Terre villages with panoramic views overlooking the Italian riviera.  It doesn’t feel like a restaurant….it feels like your sitting in Eduardo’s house. In fact, it is his former home and he was actually born in the same room where we dined. 

Eduardo inherited the restaurant from his father and now acts as owner, chef, waiter, bartender, driver (he picks you up and drops you off), and officially the most entertaining person I met in all of Italy.  

image

There’s no menu. You simply pay a fixed price for seven courses and Eduardo works his magic, bringing out dish after dish of whatever was fresh that day from the water just a short walk down the hill. In fact, if he notices that you particularly like a certain dish, he’ll bring out a second helping just because.  

image

image

There’s also a wine pairing, which typically means you drop a lot of money to taste a bit of wine.  This is not the case at La Ruota. For €7 each, Eduardo presented us with a different local wine per course, leaving the bottle on the table to refresh as we wished. Following the meal, he rolled out a cart overflowing with liquors and suggested we taste some. And by ‘some’, he meant pouring us six different glasses. 

image

image

Just as Joel and I decreed this one of, if not THE most memorable dining experiences of our lives, Eduardo showed us a little article…

Turns out the New York Times food critic agreed and hailed her meal at La Ruota as one of the best of her life, too.  As she noted, “price and prestige have nothing to do with the meals I remember best.”

You can read the whole article here. 

image

Four+ hours later, just after 1am, Eduardo drove us back down to our hotel and we said goodbye and until next time…

Our hotel was Abbadia San Giorgio, a former monastery inhabited by Franciscan monks in the 15th century. Today it still exudes the same historic and spiritual atmosphere. 

image

We awoke at 6:30am to the sound of the first bell tower chimes. It is, after all, an abbey.  After the fourth or fifth round (it rings every half hour), we made our way through the oasis to an elaborate breakfast spread prepared by two older women who we communicated with via our hands instead of words.  I knocked out a couple hours of work and chowed down on meats, cheese and focaccia, the latter of which Eduardo had explained was the ‘local breakfast’ as it’s the perfect balance of sweet and salty.

image

image

Following another one of Eduardo’s recommendations, we made the scary venture to isolated Guvano Beach nearby the Cinque Terre town of Corneglia. 

This blog shares the haphazard directions, but essentially, the trek to get there is just as exciting as the cove itself, including a 1/2 mile walk through a former train tunnel in pure darkness.  

image

This is the entrance, but for the following 15 minute walk, a flashlight is necessary to make your way to the other end. 

If the pitch black wasn’t enough to frighten you, just think about the noises….including the train sounds on the other side of the wall that can be mistaken for coming directly at you. 

image

We made our way through and were greeted with this… 

image

image

The Guvano Beach photos stop here because it’s a nude beach, a first time experience for both Joel and I. 

You only live once and, as the saying goes, when in Rome….or anywhere in Italy, I suppose.

image

Village #1 - Vernazza 

This was the busiest of the five towns, although it certainly wasn’t the biggest. I’m also inclined to say it felt the most touristy. One afternoon was plenty of time to dig into some seaside risotto, hike the narrow stairs and take in the view from the center point of the five villages.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Village #2 - Monterosso 

Not only is this the biggest of the five villages, but it’s also the only village with a real beach vs the rocky terrain that occupies most of the coast.

We strolled along the boardwalk, another “only-in-Monterosso-ism” before settling in for dinner at Trattoria Ciak La Lampara, where they took the seaside theme very seriously.

image

image

image

image

image

image

Village #3 - Riomaggiore

If there was one village that I’d skip, this would be it. However, it is the most southern of the group and a good starting point for the full hike, which is exactly what we had in mind.

image

image

image

image

image

Village #4 - Manarola 

Absolutely my favorite of all the Cinque Terre villages. We dove off the cliffs, sprawled out and baked on the slabs of rock and tasted the daily catch with views for days at Billy’s.

image

image

image

image

image

 Village #5 - Corneglia

This is the sleepiest of the Cinque Terre villages and unlike the other four, it’s located at the top of the cliff, not down by the water.  Once you reach Corneglia, it takes another 20+ minutes just to ascend to the top where you’re met with all the houses and only a handful of shops, restaurants, etc.

image

image

Portofino

About 20 minutes north of Cinque Terre is Portofino, another colorful harbor village, but one that felt like it just had a brand new fancy coat of paint.  It was definitely the snazziest, most “jet-set” spot on the coast. 

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Moneglia

While the Cinque Terre villages were filled with visitors from all over the world, Moneglia was full of Italian vacationers.  We finally took advantage of a real sand beach and some of the best people watching of the trip, including one epic photo of beach vendors carrying their wares on their head, which has gone missing. image

With one final pasta, we said ciao, ciao to Italy…and immediately began plotting a return visit. 

image

Text

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!

image

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. 

image

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.

image

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.  

image

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

image

image

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. 

image

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. 

image

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.

image

image

image

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

image

image

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

image

Olive oil to sample…

image

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. 

image

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

image

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.   

image

image

image

image

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. 

image

image

image

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. 

image

image

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

image

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

image

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…

image

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

image

image

image

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.

image

Truffles were shaved in abundance…

image

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

image

image

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.

image

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!

image

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.

image

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

image

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

image

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.

image

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

image

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. 

image

image

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

image

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.

image

image

image

image

image

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. 

image

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

image

image

image

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. 

image

image

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

image

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.  

image

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

image

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

image

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. 

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

image

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

We’re nothing if not consistent. 

image

image

image

image

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

image

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

Text

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.

image

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.

image

image

image

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. 

image

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). 

image

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

image

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

Very, very interesting…

image

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

image

Then there was ooey gooey burrata… 

image

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

image

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

image

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. 

image

image

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. 

image

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

image

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 :)

image

image

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

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

image

image

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

image

image

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. 

image

image

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. 

image

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

image

We only looked with our eyes though, as our next stop was very important..image

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. 

image

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

image

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.

image

image

image

image

image

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

image

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

image

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.

image

image

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. 

Text

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. 

image

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.

image

image

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. 

image

image

image

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. 

image

image

image

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. 

image

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. 

image

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

image

image

image

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. 

image

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

image

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.

image

image

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

Photoset

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!

Text

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….

image

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. 

image

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.

image

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.)

image

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.

image

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.  

image

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.

image

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

image

And again…

image

And again…

image

Prague’s beauty felt surreal. 

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

I digress.

image

We admired Prague Castle from the outside… 

image

But quickly moved on to the next priority…

Trdelník.

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

image

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. 

image

image

image

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.

image

image

image

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. 

image

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.

image

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

image

image

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. 

image

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.

image

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

image

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.)

image

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.

image

image

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

image

image

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….

image

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. 

image

image

image

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

In some towns, the houses were grand.

image

In some, they were traditional.

image

In some, they were ultra modern.

image

image

We passed by a school trip of kiddies, 

image

And tried to keep cool in the shade.

image

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

image

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. 

image

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

Karlštejn Castle. 

image

One word: magnificent. 

image

Marek had one more treat for us…

A meal at a middle of nowhere restaurant for what?

What else - dumplings!

image

image

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. 

image

The cafes were packed…

image

And the street performers were aplenty. 

image

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

image

The Vltava River views continued as well. 

image

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. 

image

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

image

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? 

image

Until we finally found our own door and said goodnight. 

image

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…

image

The cafes awaiting crowds…

image

The Jewish cemetery that required a second, prolonged visit.

image

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

image

The musicians…

image

The Vltava River…and the views surrounding it.

image

image

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."  

Text

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. 

image

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

image

image

Waterfalls…

image

image

It’s very own stairmaster.

image

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

image

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

We returned to Killarney…

image

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.)

image

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.”

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

image

image

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. 

image

image

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

image

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

image

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

image

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.

image

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

A Game of Thrones-esque cliff….

image

Making friends with the local sheep.

image

image

image

And birdies.

image

And photobombing rams.image

image

image

image

And coastline as far as the eye could see.

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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. 

image

image

image

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.

image

image

image

image

But it was windy.

As in, really, really windy.

image

image

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

image

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

Dontcha just love the one lane curves?

image

image

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

image

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

image

image

But the wind remained in effect.

image

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

image

image

image

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

More oysters.

image

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

Tags: Travel Ireland
Text

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.

image

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. 

image

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. 

image

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.

image

First up? The famous Roman Baths

image

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

image

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.

image

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. 

image

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

image

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

image

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. 

image

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

image

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

image

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.  

image

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. 

image

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.

image

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

Piping hot rice pudding with blackberry compote.

image

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

image

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

image

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. 

image

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.  

image

image

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

We tasted this baby cauliflower…

image

And I oh so elegantly stuffed herbs into my mouth. 

image

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. 

image

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.

image

image

image

My desire for a pet piggy has now sky rocketed. 

image

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

image

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

image

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

Majestic. 

Breathtaking.

Humbling.

Nature really captures this city girl’s heart.

image

image

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. 

image

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

image

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

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

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”.

image

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. 

image

image

Lady fit right in, no?

image

image

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

She preferred a good old-fashioned race.

image

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. 

image

image

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

image

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

image

Lady befriended more locals, as she does.

image

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

image

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. 

image

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

image

image

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

image

Tags: Travel BathUK
Text

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. 

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

Followed by a walk up to the Old Town…

image

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

image

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

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

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. 

image

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

image

image

image

image

And the fog misted from the mountains.

image

image

image

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.

image

image

image

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.

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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. 

image

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

image

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.

image

image

Then it was on to the main event…

I could barely contain my excitement for all the cheese.

image

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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….

image

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

image

image

The park was filled with families..

image

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

image

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.

image

image

image

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

image

image

We made out pretty well.

image

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!

image

Text

48 Hours in Paris

"What if we moved to London and could spend the weekends in Paris….?"

I uttered these words around this time last year.  How surreal it is when dreams become reality….

And even more surreal when you can share this reality with loved ones.

After visiting us in London for a couple days, Sarah and Dean (friends from New York) joined us for a weekend in Paris.  

They set the bar exceptionally high two years ago when they hosted us for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Crete, Greece.

You can read about that here, here, and here.

The pressure was on to return the favor and ensure their first trip to the city of lights was filled with unlimited “joie de vivre”.

Here’s how we spent our 48 hours in Paris…

"But Paris was a very old city and we were young." - Hemingway

image

After a quick snooze on the Eurostar, we arrived in Paris ready to eat and drink our way through the city.

With not a minute to spare, we dropped off bags at our classically Parisian (albeit with a splash of modern art) Airbnb apartment in Saint Germain. The five flights of winding stairs made our thighs tremble, but the views (and the calories we burned) were worth it. 

image

First agenda item? Lunch.

We took the Metro north to the Marais and wandered down the side streets away from the busier, central restaurants and opted instead for Chez Camille, an unpretentious cafe serving very classic fare.  A plate of steak frites and a couple glasses of Bordeaux and rose later, it was time to explore.

image

The streets of the Marais were packed, as was Place des Vosges, and rightfully so - you couldn’t have ordered better weather. 

image

image

image

After an hour or so of people watching and a quick trip around Bastille, we refueled on Nutella crepes…

image

Before making our way back west for a cafe crawl of sorts. 

For every sight we saw, we rewarded ourselves with some vino.  

Logical, no?

Hotel de Ville?

image

 Cafe visit….

image

Ile St. Louis?

image

Another cafe visit…

image

By the time we arrived at the Louvre, we picked up our own bottle of wine for some on-the-go refreshments.

Very American of us.

image

Just before sunset we took a stroll across Pont des Arts.

image

Where Dean and Sarah added a lock of their own.

image

Joel and I reminisced about the last time we were in the same exact spot almost three years ago. 

image

I dug up the photo for memory’s sake :)

image

With throbbing feet and perhaps one too many glasses of wine, we bid adieu to the musicians and returned to the Left Bank for a much needed nap. 

image

As night fell, we gussied up for dinner in the Latin Quarter at Le Coupe Chou.

This was everyone’s all around favorite meal of the weekend.

Why?

image

The restaurant is tucked away on a quiet street and is separated into several small, intimate stone rooms as if you were dining at someone’s house. The service was very warm, helpful, and attentive and the food was impeccable. 

Boeuf Bourguignon, Marget de Canard, Lamb Chops - it was classic French to a T.

As if a grand-mere made it.

image

image

Typically, I’d finish a meal like that by immediately getting horizontal in bed.

But it was almost midnight in Paris….

So we took our dancing shoes to Hotel Costes to hear their renowned DJ.

image

I admittedly don’t know a thing about “cool DJs” and end up feeling like the lamest person in the room at sceney places, but I had so much fun on Saturday night jumping to my feet and dancing to the oldie remixes. 

Oh, and the people watching itself was worth the trip. 

image

Somehow we managed to make our way back up those winding stairs (without falling) and caught a couple hours of sleep before the alarm shocked us awake at 9am. 

We kicked off the day the best way we knew how - with croissants, pain au chocolates, and multiple cafe cremes at the brasserie across the street from our apartment. 

image

True story - as soon as we left, we swung by boulangerie to pick up another croissant each.

Oops.

Thankfully, we had an active day ahead of us and spent the next five hours cruising by some of the biggest city sights.

With such limited time in Paris, we focused our experience on seeing as much as possible without actually standing in the lines and going inside. Naturally, a bike is the best way to do this.

And yes, I do feel like a spokesperson for city bike tours as this was my THIRD in a month. (see Madrid here and Copenhagen here).

image

image

image

We stopped for a quick lunch in Tuileries Gardens, which were bursting with color.  

image

Curious what we ordered?

image

Let me give you a hint… 

There was baguette. Cheese. And more wine.

Mais oui!

image

image

image

After a full day of sightseeing, we patted ourselves on the back and rewarded each other for a job well done with…..more wine.

image

The laissez faire cafe lifestyle was high on our priority list, but this time we experienced it left bank-style in Saint Germain.

image

Clearly, the wine went down very smoothly.

image

Sunday night dinner was at Le Comptoir du Relais.

While the food and atmosphere was on par with the previous evening’s meal, our waiter hated us (or simply acted like it). 

image

No matter - we didn’t let it affect our evening. 

Escargots, filet, cote du rhone….it was all so good. 

image

image

image

The cafe crawl didn’t stop there. 

We wrapped things up at Cafe Bonaparte, where our waiter (pictured above) more than made up for the previous waiter’s antics and even challenged Dean to a coaster throw. 

image

image

It was midnight in Paris and it was perfect….

Only to be topped by a swift walk back to the Seine for a final view of the illuminated Eiffel Tower. 

image

I woke up Monday morning and knocked out a couple hours of work on our terrace before jumping back on the train.

Two hours+ later, I was back in London, happy to be home.

Happy to be reunited with Lady. 

And happy to finally feel like London is home.

image

Tags: Travel Paris
Photo
36 Hours in Norway
We had big plans for Norway, but when the country threw us lemons, we couldn&#8217;t even make lemonade. Everything that went wrong did and I&#8217;m disappointed to say that the trip was not a success, nor anything even close to resembling one. 
Instead of boring you with the details of the fjord tour that wasn&#8217;t mean to be or every of unfortunate twist, I&#8217;ll share this photo of the very traditional meal we had in Oslo, Norwegian Meatballs, the bigger sister of Swedish Meatball.
Lesson learned - don&#8217;t visit Norway in winter (i.e. October-May). 
Keeping my fingers crossed that any future trips to Norway take a different course and that I&#8217;m proven wrong.

36 Hours in Norway

We had big plans for Norway, but when the country threw us lemons, we couldn’t even make lemonade. Everything that went wrong did and I’m disappointed to say that the trip was not a success, nor anything even close to resembling one. 

Instead of boring you with the details of the fjord tour that wasn’t mean to be or every of unfortunate twist, I’ll share this photo of the very traditional meal we had in Oslo, Norwegian Meatballs, the bigger sister of Swedish Meatball.

Lesson learned - don’t visit Norway in winter (i.e. October-May). 

Keeping my fingers crossed that any future trips to Norway take a different course and that I’m proven wrong.

Tags: Travel Norway
Text

48 Hours in Copenhagen, Denmark

My mom has had Scandinavia on her bucket list for quite some time.  Her admiration/enthusiasm for the region is so great that she talks about their politics, lifestyle, and design aesthetic as if she was a born and bred Dane.  

She arrived in London last Friday for an extended visit and in less than 24 hours I did what any sweet daughter would do….

I (along with Joel) forced my sleep deprived, jet lagged mother onto a flight to the “happiest country in the world”: Denmark. 

First things first - we scoped out our Danish digs, i.e. our Airbnb with these dizzying plank stairs, which I loved.  

image

Even though we were staying in the city center, our spacious flat overlooked this quiet courtyard.  It was pure serenity and a reminder that Airbnb is the way to go when traveling. 

image

Our first activity was a late morning stroll through Torvehallerne, a glass/steel food market surrounded by more bicycles than I’ve ever seen (did you know 50% of the population commutes on bike?!) and brimming with all sorts of local delicacies…..

image

image

Including Smørrebrød  (open faced sandwiches on rye bread)…..image

Heaps of seafood (especially one of my favorites, herring)….

image

And, of course, danish pastries. 

image

There was no doubt for my mama - it was love at first sight with her cinnamon + cardamon danish. 

image

Her face literally froze when the flaky, doughy pastry hit her mouth. 

image

We sat down to slowly enjoy our breakfast and people watch. A couple things we observed immediately:

- Copenhagen is super expensive. As in, I still can’t wrap my mind around it. I’d been warned about this, but I figured since I used to live in New York and now call London home that I’d be of numb to the sticker shock. I was wrong. $8 for a coffee?  $5 for a pastry? $12 for a basic beer?

-I’ve never seen so many children in my life. I don’t know what the deal is, but there was 1 child for every 3 adults. This stroller is one of the 1,000 I saw in a couple hour period. I asked a local about this and he simply stated that it’s not that Danes have more children, it’s just that the recent generations are very ‘inclusive’.  This extends through to their children, which they bring with them everywhere. He also noted that this is the reason for all the playgrounds around the city - there are a ton. But I’m still going to go with my impression that they must have a significantly higher birth rate :)

image

-Not only are there a lot of children, but they’re also tremendously well dressed in folksy outfits and full body puffer onesies with furry pointed hoods that make them look like gnomes. I wish I paparazzi’d the little kids for you to see….absolutely precious.   

-Danish people are quiet (which, again, I had been ‘warned’ about). Torvehallerne is Copenhagen’s version of Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel, which I visited last month. Both food halls are extremely similar (lots of wine drinking, local food eating, socializing, etc), but the volume level at each couldn’t be more different.   I guess it’s a good reflection of each country’s culture?

image

We then set out on foot to see as much as possible. Copenhagen is fairly spread out, so we had a ways to go.

Our first stop was Christiania, a commune of sorts that currently has around 850 residents.  The neighborhood’s heyday has obviously come and gone and the result is weathered and run down.  People stood in long lines to buy their marijuana and then sat outside at picnic benches to relax. I was expecting an oasis of sorts….I was wrong. Photos aren’t permitted, but you can get a sense of Christiana here.  

While walking along the river, we passed one of the many playgrounds.  This one was the best I’ve ever seen because it had…wait for it…..trampolines!

image

I tried to challenge this little girl to a jump off, but she was too adorable to be bothered with my shenanigans. image

image

We stopped for lunch at Bodega, a cafe recommended by the head chef at Noma (the world’s #1 restaurant). I had a herring craving that needed to be filled and Bodega knocked it out of the park with their “Herrings 3 Ways” dish.

It has to be said that their $8 latte (still can’t get over that $) was the best of the weekend. 

image

We wrapped up the afternoon in Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront/what everyone expects all of Copenhagen to look like (myself included).

The colorful buildings really are straight off of a postcard. It’s easy to see why Hans Christian Anderson called this home….must’ve sparked so much fairytale creativity. 

image

image

The wool blankets sitting on each cafe chair was a warm reminder that, brrrr, Denmark is chilly!  But likely only for us. Most everyone else soaked up the sun and slightly above freezing temperature, the best weather they’ve seen for months.

image

image

Following a much needed nap (that 4:30am wake up call was not lovely), we had dinner at Madklubben, which I had found online in a comparison review to Noma since they have a multi-course, elevated gourmet dinner, for a severe fraction of the cost.

The place was PACKED (in a good way) and was buzzing, literally. Somehow we managed to score the one table with a window overlooking to chefs, who we watched like a hawk for the remainder of our evening.

I can’t recommend this spot more.

image

image

Sunday in the “City of Bikes”” started in an obvious way…..with a 3 1/2 hour city tour with this colorful guy, Bike Mike.

image

image

I had read that seeing the city through his eyes is “unique experience”, but nothing could have prepared me for his over-the-top personality, fascinating stories, and quirky insight into Danish life.

Did you know that Denmark leads the world in meat consumption?

Or that they have a significantly high number of smokers (even by Europe’s standards) and they’re the cancer capital of the world

Or that in the 1940’s, plumbing still wasn’t standard for the general public.

Or that the water quality is now SO good that many locals swim in their city harbor (can’t even imagine doing that in the Hudson or Thames River).  

Or that their public bikes are free?

image

The palace was one of my favorite stops on the tour. The royal courtyard is surrounded by several mini palaces (maybe 3-5?) and each royal member has their own.

How quaint.

And even though Mike told us that it was the nicest/warmest/sunniest day of the year so far, I was still freezing and couldn’t comprehend all the convertibles we passed with their tops down. 

image

It was also love at first (orange) sight for Mike and my mom.  

Well, for him at least.

image

At the end of the tour he informed her that although he is married, he believes people fall in love instantaneously with several people in a lifetime and after having met my mom, he had met his life match. (Don’t worry, Michael - she brushed him off easily.)

P.S. Watching my mom get awkward when a man hits on her is one of the most amusing things I have experienced. 

We certainly earned our lunch at Aamanns, a smørrebrød restaurant created by the former chef of, where else, Noma. (Side note, we didn’t know this beforehand. They’re simply really well known for their smørrebrød and actually recently opened a restaurant in Tribeca. If you live in NYC go and report back.)

image

image

image

A walk in the park and another nap later, it was time to eat again.

image

Seeing as it was Sunday night, the streets were pretty much empty. As were the wool covered cafe seats. To say this city shuts down on a Sunday would be an understatement. (Still can’t get over how empty the streets were in the morning, too.)

image

We dined on morels, boar, and profiteroles at Peder Oxe, a restaurant that instead of caving to modern Danish design pressure, celebrates the country’s, well, countryside and farm roots.  

Even the waitresses sport the region’s folkish attire.

image

image

Did Copenhagen seem like the “happiest” place on earth? I’m not sure, but I do think it’s a city you have to live in vs visit to even begin to somewhat understand and appreciate.  Plus, it’s really clean.

With adrenaline pulsing through our veins, clear air filling our lungs, and a true sense of quiet and calm, we enjoyed one last slumber in Copenhagen before saying “Farvel”. 

Text

48 Hours in Belgium

Maybe I’m living under a rock, but why don’t people talk about Bruges more?!

Considering how infrequently I’ve heard anyone talk about the wonder that is Bruges, me thinks it’s under the radar, but really, it should’t be. 

First, let me back up.

48 hours in Belgium kicked off with 16 hours in Brussels. I visited the city eight years ago, didn’t like it then, don’t like it much now (except the beautiful Grand Place). 

Friday night’s dinner at Amadeus was a really nice surprise. Although a local friend of a friend had recommended it, the restaurant is technically an ‘all you can eat’ rib joint, so my expectations weren’t high. I was happy to be wrong and take pride in the fact that I was the last one still eating at the end of the meal. 

image

Following dinner we taste tested the local beer and strolled around the Grand Place, the main square, which, when lit up at night, is simply stunning. 

image

Saturday morning we explored a bit more, but kept finding ourselves back at the Grand Place.

image

image

Or taste testing waffles because, you know, when in Belgium…

image

At noon we hopped on the hour train north west to Bruges.

The town welcomed us with cloudy skies and rain, but I didn’t mind one bit because I was in storybook heaven.

When my friend Ashley recently visited Bruges, she raved about it, referring to it as the real life version of the Beauty and the Beast town.  

I can’t think of a more accurate description (in fact, I kept singing this song as I wandered the streets.)

I’m assuming Brothers Grimm spent most their time here while brainstorming their fairytales.

Bruges now sits toward the top of my favorites list as one of the sweetest place have ever visited, a Flemish town completely suspended in time that preserves its early heritage tremendously well.

image

image

First things first - we loaded up on Belgian mussels, fries, and beer at a cavernous underground cafe De Bierbistrto.

image

image

And then spent the afternoon doing what we do best…

Exploring and taste testing more waffles. image

image

image

After spending the entire day on our feet getting lost on side streets and  canals, it was nice to curl up with loads of red wine in front of a fire place and taste even more local food (for me, meatballs in a pear sauce) at Maria van Bourgondie, a restaurant we found simply by passing by away from the center of town.  I 100% highly recommend it.

image

image

image

Sunday thankfully brought with it blue skies and pure sunshine. image

image

We found a picture perfect cafe, again out of a storybook, Patisserie Servaas Van Mullem, where I devoured the most decadent vanilla bean custard pastry.

Just take a moment and to observe this thing of beauty.

image

Then it was time to further explore the perfectly preserved medieval town, some of us by boat, some of us by bike. I became utterly lost in the city because it really feels as if nothing has changed since the 16th century.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

At 6pm we jumped back on Eurostar and returned to London.

Tired feet.

Full bellies.

Total Flemish win.

Currently back in London trying to catch up on my zzz’s and prepare for this weekend’s voyage…..Denmark and Norway!

Tags: Travel
Text

48 Hours in Madrid

Living spontaneously…

When we first moved to the UK, Joel and I daydreamed about sitting around on a Thursday night with no weekend plans and booking a last minute trip.  We almost pulled the trigger a couple of times, but ultimately, it’s a bit too intense/anxiety ridden to take a trip that last minute.

While it wasn’t super last minute, we lived a bit spontaneously and scheduled a trip to Madrid with one week’s notice. 

This was actually our first trip since we got married….just the two of us.  

With all the changes in the last year, there was never a time for a honeymoon (it will happen…eventually) and even though there have been a handful of trips in the last six months, none were just….us.

And boy, did it feel good.

Friday night kicked off with 8pm drinks at Meson de la Guitarra. Considering Spain’s late night dinner lifestyle (as featured in the NYT earlier this week) mixed with the popularity of the bar (we received a ton of recommendations to go here), we figured drinks from 8-10pm would be normal. 

We were wrong. 

For two hours we had Meson de la Guitarra to ourselves, a pitcher of sangria, some tapas, and a couple of musicians.  

image

OLE!

At around 10pm, a couple people began trickling in and by 1030, the place was filling up. 

You live, you learn.

At 11pm, we arrived for dinner at Bocaito, a quintessential Spanish restaurant (in terms of food and ambiance), which came recommended by a local colleague of mine.

It was here that we fully understood the late night Madrid culture…

At 11pm, the host was quoting 1 and 1/2 hour wait times and the rooms were packed with guests of all ages. 

image

image

image

image

Saturday morning we woke up to rain, rain, and more rain. The timing was rather perfect since our goal for the day was to go on a culinary adventure at Mercado de San Miguel.

The indoor market is stall after stall of tapas, particularly seafood.  And wine. And jamon….which is hanging everywhere.  

Three hours later we emerged with grins from ear to ear…..partly from all the wine, partly from our full bellies.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

We then went for a bit of a walk, cursing the rain along the way…

image

And decided it was time to soak up more culture, i.e. try more food. 

This time we went with churros and chocolate. 

image

image

image

Following a siesta, we emerged to explore the Salamanca neighborhood with stops at The Whitby and St. James. 

image

But the best part of the weekend? Easily our bike tour with Bravo Bike.

Kaspar took us on a three hour ride throughout the city explaining the history, sharing local facts, etc.  We cruised through parks, passed by palaces, stopped for a cafe con leche and pastry, curved around tiny alleys, and finished down a big boulevard that was empty of cars thanks to a protest.  Kaspsar also doubled as a paparazzi, snapping our photo around every twist and turn. 

My only regret is doing the ride toward the end of the trip since we gained such a better understanding of the city and the culture. 

image

image

image

image

image

image

Although the thought of eating more croquettes or jamon makes me queasy…

Here’s to living (a smidge) spontaneously! 

Photoset

10 days, 5 countries, 1 inspired (albeit sleepy) Casey.

I want to write this here and put pen to paper (figuratively) to remember this feeling….

Some adventures are coming to a close. Some are just about to begin.  

The past year has without a doubt been a roller coaster and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

"Tell mewhat is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” - Mary Oliver.

Tags: Travel Paris