En route to Dublin, Ireland

Our last day of adventure in the Irish countryside finally caught up with us. Much too soon for my liking, but after a quick chat with our B&B host that went something like this:

Him: Where in the US are you from?

Me: Texas. Austin actually.

Him: Oh, like JR Ewing?

Me: Close, he was from Dallas.

we left in high spirits despite the cold, rainy weather that awaited us outside.

DSC00812Because this was a driving day, the rainy weather didn’t bother us much and since we didn’t really have any sights planned to stop at we focused on making good time.

Then, about halfway to Dublin, we hit a break in the rain and took a detour to Birr Castle.

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Birr Castle is home to the 7th Earl of Rosse so we weren’t able to go inside; however, the grounds were open to the public and we took the opportunity to explore them, despite sporadic rain showers and wind.

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Once we had enough of the cold wind and rain we made the final leg of our drive to our hotel in Dublin and what would our last drive in Ireland be without a rainbow?

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After dropping our bags at the hotel and taking our car back to the airport we headed into Dublin for our first night in the city.

It was FREEZING, super windy, and rainy so we didn’t veer very far from the Temple Bar area, but we did manage to peek in and catch a glimpse of Trinity College at night, which was gorgeous.

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DSC00878By this point I was getting cranky, because I was cold and hungry and wet so we ducked in the nearest tourist trap we could find – Hard Rock Cafe – where they sat me, uh I mean us, in the Sting booth.

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If you know me, you know how big of a moment this was for me. After our very American dinner, we headed back to the hotel to chill, the next day we had to hit the ground running as it was Adam’s last day of sightseeing before the business end of this trip began.

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Cliffs of Moher & Galway, Ireland

Leaving Dingle was hard.

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I mean, who would want to leave when this is the sunrise view from the front porch of your bed & breakfast?

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But, more of Ireland was just waiting to be explored, and we had to get an early start.

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One perk of the morning was that we got to drive Conor Pass one last time.

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Let’s be honest, there was no “we” in driving – Adam was the sole driver and I just played naviga-ooh look pretty views, pull over.

Our route today was pretty straight-forward, primarily driving north, along the coast, and taking a ferry across the River Shannon.

Our first stop this day was the Blennerville Windmill which was built in 1800 an recently restored after years of neglect.

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Then we took the ferry across the River Shannon and ate lunch in Kilrush.

While eating the most amazing baked potato of my life (topped with mozzarella and bacon!) a kind older couple chatted with us and insisted we drive out to Loop Head. It was a slight detour on our route but they promised cliff views that rivaled the Cliffs of Moher.

THEY WEREN’T KIDDING.

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We absolutely lucked out on this recommendation not only were the cliffs FREE (Cliffs of Moher charged 6 euro per adult) there were no other tourists there and they remained virtually untouched. The only signs of visitors were worn trails in pastures along the cliff line.

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We walked along the cliffs for close to an hour and could have stayed longer, but knew we still had to book it to make it to the more famous cliffs before sunset.

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And then we pulled into the parking lot at the Cliffs of Moher right at the start of the “golden hour”, which led to spectacular lighting for pictures (Adam’s are amazing).

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We spent another hour or so walking along the edges and taking pictures before it got so dark that we needed to head back to the car and finish up our journey to Galway.

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While we enjoyed the Cliffs – the views from and stature of them were quite impressive, it was the first time on our trip that we were crowded by other tourists and realized just how spoiled we had been up until this point.

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Galway. Oh, Galway. The first time on our trip where our GPS led us astray, not once, but 3 times. But finally, after an hour driving around the city, we found our bed & breakfast – Marless House. Once we parked the car and took our bags to our room, we asked the host for directions to food and pubs – the most important parts of any Irish evening.

We strolled to Salthill about a half mile from the B&B and found ourselves eating in a very popular (and delicious) pizzeria, Da Roberta. After dinner, we walked a couple of doors down to O’Connor’s Pub for a drink.

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This pub was very eclectic and quite busy.

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I loved that we sat on an old church pew and our “table” was an old Singer sewing machine table.

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 After 2 drinks each, we called it a night and headed to bed, for tomorrow we were off to Dublin!

Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland (Part II)

Annnnd I’m back with Part II of our day in and around Dingle…

After a late and tasty lunch in Dingle, we set our sights on driving Conor Pass. Conor Pass is Ireland’s highest mountain pass and, as we soon found out, quite curvy and narrow. So our full attention was on not wrecking our rental car, but, the views we got while driving it were incredible.

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We also decided to video the road as we drove it so that we could show off this awesome road to family and friends.

After driving the Pass, we went back to our B&B to rest for a bit before hitting the pubs of Dingle.

We talked with our host about pubs she recommended we visit and went in search of those in addition to stopping in at others that struck our fancy as we walked through the higgledy-piggledy streets. I LOVED Dingle and the more we explored and the more people we met the love just got stronger. It’s an adorable little town full of character and friendly people who enjoy nothing more than chatting about their life with you.

Our first stop of the night was Dick Mack’s Pub.

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It opened in 1899 and is still in operation 2 generations later. It’s full of reminders of the past, from tools and nails and tea and sugar bins stamped with the family crest and motto, “As you like it,” which fill the shelves surrounding the bar.

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Of course, I had to continue my whiskey drinking ways…

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…while Adam had himself a pint.

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We had lots of fun talking to the locals who were bellied up to the bar swapping jokes (What’s the difference between a house and a home? A home is where old people go. What’s the difference between an outlaw and an in-law? Outlaws are wanted.) and stories about their day/week/life. It was so laid back and easy we could have stayed there for hours (which if we ever come back to Dingle, I plan to do).

One of the charms of Dick Mack’s were the stars placed on the sidewalk in front of the pub. The stars represent celebrities that have visited the pub. Which means that DOLLY freaking PARTON has been there, and given the limited number of seats in the pub the chances that my bottom sat where her bottom sat are quite high.

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Speaking of Dolly, Ireland is obsessed with her. She’s having a concert there next summer, but it didn’t stop the radio station from advertising it almost once each hour. In addition, just this morning as we were headed to drive the peninsula, they had a live radio interview with her. Of course I made Adam listen to it with me – Dolly’s my hero.

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After leaving Dick Mack’s, we walked down to the pier to have dinner before heading to our final pub of the night. We had planned to stop in at least 3 pubs, but time and sleepiness got the best of us.

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O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub was highly recommended to us by our B&B host because of its great live music. And boy did it not disappoint. Notice that I am in fact taller than the entrance to the pub. And that height difference? Also stayed in place around the bar, which did result in Adam ramming his head into the ceiling once when he got up to get more drinks. The locals then told us it happens all the time, while I was busy laughing. I’m so thoughtful.

We had about 45 minutes to burn before the music began and spent it talking with the locals who had already packed themselves in around the bar. More drinks for us!DSC00635

Around 8:45, kids in costume showed up to trick or treat in the pub. You guys! Did you read that? Parents take their kids trick or treating in the pubs!!! Can we get this started in the US please?

And by trick or treating, I mean singing and dancing in traditional Irish fashion for their candy. These kids were adorable.

Then the live music started and the artists, Caroline Keane and Matt Griffin, were exceptional. Now I want to learn how to play the concertina.

We had so much fun during our night out on the town in Dingle!

Driving the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland

Day 3 in Ireland is hands-down the most incomparable day of my life.

We started off with a wonderful breakfast at our B&B, Lighthouse, which our host Mary prepared for us and then we got on the road. Since we were staying 2 nights in Dingle we had plenty of time to really appreciate the views, take some side trips, and soak up this beautiful area of Ireland.

Again, we asked at the B&B what to see, in addition to our plan of driving the Dingle Peninsula/Slea Head Drive, and were told by the couple next to us that we had to drive Conor Pass. Luckily, Dingle sits right in between these two drives so we did the peninsula first, came into town and ate a late lunch then headed up the Pass.

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We didn’t really have a plan once we started driving the peninsula other than to pull over whenever we saw a view or road that looked fun. This turned out to be the best way to go for us. Again, we were so glad we opted to hire a car rather than join a tour group because we could stop whenever we wanted and spend as much or as little time as we wanted at each stop.

Our first stop was the Dunbeg Fort, built in 500BC, and its spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding cliffs.

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As was the norm on the coast, the wind was insane, but not selfie preventative.

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Next up, was a random roadside pull off stop to soak up more amazing views…

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…then trespassing on some poor farmer’s land because we wanted to get closer to the coast.

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We got back in our car and drove just a bit further, when saw a narrow road which looked like it led to a beach at the base of the cliffs. As any inquisitive tourist would do, we turned down the road fully ready to meet a gate or something blocking our way. Instead, we were able to drive down and park on the beach at the base of the cliffs at Coumeenoole.

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We were the only people on the beach for at least 15 minutes, then other brave souls began driving their cars down and parking next to our rental.

Adam and I LOVED this beach, and in typical photographer fashion, we were the first to arrive and last to leave.

After we drove back up the cliff, we turned left and MY DREAM CAME TRUE!

I had told everyone that the only thing I wanted to do in Ireland was drive down a road and be blocked by sheep. On this day IT HAPPENED and I was entirely too giddy about this; but, I wasn’t the only one. There were two other cars of tourists also exclaiming that it was their dream to be stopped in the road by sheep which actually caused a line of tourists freaking out and insisting on getting their picture taken with the sheep in the road.

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Of course, we had to join in.

Driving the Dingle Peninsula and getting stopped in the road by

For the rest of the day, I was annoyingly happy that my dream came true.

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After the sheep were ran into a nearby pasture by their dog and human, Adam grabbed me by the ear and threw me in the car before I took a sheep home with us and I headed off in search of our next Irish adventure, which included more stopping at pull offs on the road and trespassing on farms.

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That is, until we came upon another road that appeared to lead to the bottom of more cliffs.

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We started driving down the road but at the last minute decided to pull the car off into a makeshift parking area right before the final bend to the water.

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Thank God we did that, otherwise our car might have been lunch for the Atlantic, because  it turned out to be an abandoned pier with quite aggressive waves and no place to turn around once the car got down there.

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But this pier? Was AWESOME. Not as serene as the beach was, but exciting and invigorating. We experienced the power of the Atlantic right in front of our faces and nothing will ever compare to it again.

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Huge waves would crash onto the pier or the rocks nearby and swells would force us to run up against the cliffs a few times, but it was such a once in a lifetime experience.

Stay tuned for Part II of Day 3….

Killarney to Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland

Waking up on day two in Ireland we were greeted with rain and wind, but it wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits. After a few cups of tea and coffee and bellies full of breakfast, our host at Sika Lodge apologized for the rain, wind and cold weather. We told her we didn’t mind and loaded up the car for our drive to Dingle.

We were in Ireland, for goodness sake!

Originally, our route to Dingle was driving through the Killarney National Park to see the Muckross House and Gardens and the Torc Waterfall, then drive the Ring of Kerry. During breakfast, we asked our host about our plan to see if she had any additional recommendations and she suggested that we also extend our Ring of Kerry drive to include the Skellig Ring – what a great little addition!

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We planned to take a tour of the Muckross House and walk the gardens surrounding it, but when we got there it was very windy, rainy, and cold and the next tour was not for another hour and 45 minutes. Instead, we bundled up and walked around a bit before calling it a wash (literally) and got back in the car to dry off and warm up.

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Then we drove a few more kilometers through the park to the Torc Waterfall and it was magnificent – very full thanks to the rain and the heavy woods surrounding it helped to keep the rain a bay a bit so we could enjoy the scenery.

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A few times while we were there the wind would pick up and a flurry of autumn leaves would fall around us. It was breathtaking and I could have stayed there forever had the rain not been a factor.

We got back in the car and cranked up the heat, hopeful we would dry out just as we arrived at our next location, Ladies View, which is a car park with a spectacular view of the National Park next to a coffee shop. I’m sure on a clear day it’s absolutely gorgeous, but Adam and I agreed that even in dreary weather Ireland is a stunning country.

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Next up, the Ring of Kerry and Skellig Ring…and also a stop at a handmade chocolate factory complete with free samples. Our favorites, which I might have to start getting shipped to Texas, were the Dark Chocolate Vanilla Ganache Truffles, White Chocolate Citrus Truffles and Marshmallow Clusters. So good!!

One thing we loved about having our own car, was getting to stop off wherever we wanted. This led to us crossing a bridge in a quaint village and me essentially yelling at Adam that we had to get out and walk around. And take pictures, of course.

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Our host back at Sika Lodge warned us that many of the little villages on the Ring of Kerry will have closed up for the winter, which couldn’t have been more evident than in Waterville. We saw hardly anyone out and about, and no shops were open.

This didn’t stop us from taking a picture of Charlie Chaplin’s bronze statue. Apparently Waterville was his favorite holiday spot.

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A bit further up the road, we came upon the Kerry Cliffs and paid the 4 euro each to walk out to the nearest point from which to view the Skellig Islands.

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We finished up our second day in Ireland on the beach in Inch at sunset.

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Perfection!

En route to Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland

Recently, we left Austin for a 2 week vacation/work trip in Ireland. Adam’s company needed him to be in Dublin the first week of November and I decided to tag along. We spent the first week driving the Southwest and West coasts of the country before our week stay in Dublin.

We planned to arrive in Ireland early in the morning and power through the day before hitting the sack for the night.

In theory this sounded like a flawless plan. In practice? Not so much. What we failed to factor into this plan was that our longest driving day would be taking place right off the bat. Also, our plane arrived about an hour early thanks to a 150 mph tailwind and we had to sit around the airport for an hour before our rental car was ready.

Once our car was ready and loaded down with luggage we took off on the left side of the road. Adam was the designated driver for our trip and I was happy to play navigator. We only had one wrong turn getting out of the airport, but all it took was a u-turn and we were back on our Irish adventure.

Before leaving the US, we decided that our plan was to not really have a plan, other than knowing where we were ending up each day. This allowed us to turn off whenever we wanted if something struck our fancy. It also allowed us to see quaint drives in the countryside like this:

Our first official stop was the Rock of Cashel at the top of a hill in little village of Cashel surrounded by farmland. It was our first true introduction to Ireland and what a greeting it gave us. This was the view at the car park:

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We made the short walk to the entrance of the site and I loved the view to the village below.

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One perk of going to Ireland during the time of year we chose was that the busy tourist season was wrapping up, so we never had lines or huge amounts of tourists at the stops; although, some places were already closed for the winter.

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After touring the Rock of Cashel we got back in the car and headed to Cork for a tour of the Jameson Irish Whiskey Distillery.  This was highly recommended to us by one of Adam’s co-workers and it was a wonderful experience.

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Even if Adam was starting to fight some serious jet-lag in the few minutes we had to wait before the tour.

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After touring the distillery, we were given complimentary whiskey tastings. Adam chose a hot whiskey tasting while I went for the Jameson ginger & lime cocktail that was available – and thus began my love for Irish Whiskey.

Something neither Adam nor I saw coming, because I never stray from an Apple-tini or Sangria.

It’s also possible that this was the first time in history someone drove better after drinking whiskey, as the hot whiskey tasting did a good job of jolting Adam out of his jet lagged state 🙂

Once we were done tasting and touring and back on the road, we made the final push to our first Bed & Breakfast, Sika Lodge, in Killarney.

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It was adorable and ran by Serena and her husband, along with their adorable little baby girl. We loved our stay there and only wish we were able to do more than sleep, eat (exceptional french toast with chocolate chips) and leave for Dingle the next morning, as Killarney seemed like a fun town to explore.

Walt Disney World: Part 4

[Click here for Part 3]
EPCOT

You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging on the rest of our EPCOT travels did you? 🙂

As I mentioned in my first post, the reason for our trip to Disney was to celebrate a sorority sister’s wedding. In the days leading up to the wedding, we had a few events to take part in – but the times still allowed us to have some night park time!

Mexico

After taking a nice long mid-day break (due to rain, AGAIN), we were able to get gussied up for the Dessert Welcome Party for the wedding. But first, we had to make our reservations at La Hacienda San Angel in Mexico – while braving the rain. This restaurant was recommended by a co-worker’s wife and I’m so glad we knew about it! The atmosphere was wonderful, the service was great and the food was mouth-watering.

To start, we ordered the Queso Fundido – one of our favorite mexican dishes – which was served alongside some wonderful warm flour tortillas. We then split the La Hacienda Parrillada, which included an unbelievable New York Strip, chicken al pastor, chorizo, and grilled vegetables.

This was more than enough food for us to eat and we ended up sending about half of it back when it was time for the next course, dessert!! Adam ordered the Crema de Chocolate “Abuelita” which was chocolate custard served with crunchy buñuelo strips and caramel syrup.

Meanwhile, I was devouring my dish – Empanada de Manzana, a puff pastry filled with sautéed caramel apples, served with dulce de leche ice cream and cajeta. It was heaven.

After finishing our meal, our hopes of the rain letting up was drenched – literally. So we walked across the street to ride the indoor boat ride, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. By the time the boat ride was done, the rain had let up some and we were able to have some picture fun as we headed to the monorail for the Dessert Party at The Grand Floridian.

We had a great time at the Dessert Party catching up with some of my college friends I hadn’t seen since graduating. On our walk to watch the breathtaking Magic Kingdom fireworks show, we passed another banquet room with a band that sounded very similar to Journey. In fact, so similar we had to stop and take a peek. Later that evening, Adam looked up Journey’s website and it was made about 90% certain that the headshots on the website were the same people on the stage. So yeah, we saw Journey at Disney World. No biggie.

After the Dessert Party, we made our way back to EPCOT for extra magic hours. We crammed in some final attractions before calling it a night around midnight. We met Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald!!!

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After hobnobbing with the characters, we speed walked to Soarin’, the only ride we had yet to be able to get on due to lines. Lucky for us there was no wait at 11:30 pm. Go figure! So we got to take an aerial tour through California. Adam loved this ride, but I wasn’t entirely a fan. It needed a story. Specifically, a story narrated by Morgan Freeman telling me about the things I’m seeing on the ride. Even with that comment, I did love the “smell-a-vision” aspect of the ride. California citrus smells AWESOME!!

We ended our travels in EPCOT taking the obligatory sphere picture – thanks to the park photographers 🙂

EPCOT Tips:
  • Take full advantage of the Meal Plan. Seriously, it’s worth every penny you spend on it, because it essentially turns your Disney vacation into an all-inclusive resort (with the exception of booze and souvenirs). Best investment ever. Plus, most Disney meal portions are huge so you can easily split entrees among 2 people.
  • Make dining reservations. This ensures that you’ll get a table in the pavilions you want to eat in, at the times you want to eat there. We did this for both Germany and Mexico and it worked out very well for us.
[More Disney memories to come…]

Walt Disney World: Part 3

[Click here for Part 2]
EPCOT

After a fun-filled morning in the Magic Kingdom, we were starving and made our way to EPCOT for lunch in Germany.

Before our trip, we made reservations in 2 countries in the world showcase – Germany for Adam and Mexico for me. The Biergarten in Germany was a total man food heaven while I was happy to eat the mac and cheese from the kids buffet and sip on my Shirley Temple.

The cool thing about eating in Germany was that you got to meet other park-goers. Every table in the Biergarten is set for 8 people, so we were able to meet a family of 4 and a local couple over lunch. Lucky for us, the locals where actually a part of the Disney family, the husband was a cast member in EPCOT and gave us a few tips of must-dos while in the park. At the end of lunch we were treated to a show of traditional German music – which we wouldn’t have known about had we not ended up eating with a cast member. 🙂

Throughout our trip, it became evident that EPCOT really didn’t want us to stay long. Every time we entered the park we had to rush through to avoid getting rained on. So after our lunch in Germany what did we do? Walked really fast through the rest of the World Showcase, snapping minimal pictures along the way, and took the bus back to our hotel. The downpour started immediately after we closed our room door. At least we got to see an awesome juggler in Italy!

The next afternoon, we finally got a few hours in to enjoy EPCOT without the threat of rain. During this time we got to take full advantage of the International Flower and Garden Festival that was taking place throughout the park!

The flowers were absolutely breathtaking and we had a fun time goofing off as we made our way throughout the park.

Mission: SPACE

After we spent sometime taking pictures, it was time to ride some rides. First up? Mission: SPACE. We had heard that there were 2 tracks to take in this ride and we chose the calmer of the 2 – The Green Team. This was the perfect choice for us pansies and we really enjoyed being the crew of a mission to Mars. The video the showed throughout the ride really made us feel like we were in space – I’d definitely ride this again we we come back!

Spaceship Earth

Yep, it’s in the iconic EPCOT sphere.

Call me crazy, but this might have been one of my top rides in all of Disney. I really enjoyed the trip through history and the slow-pace of this ride. My favorite part was at the end – it’s still etched in my brain. I’m not sure if the developers of this ride intended it to have such symbolism, but at the very end your “car” turns around and you face the parts of the ride you just went through. I immediately leaned to Adam and said “I love the symbolism.” He looked confused, so I continued, “You know, how you have to look back at your past to move into your future.” Who knows if this was the goal of this ride, but it’s what I got out of it.

An added bonus was getting to create a movie about your future that you could then email to yourself for future laughs. Very, very cool!

Our final evening of having a park pass also proved beneficial because it was Extra Magic Hours at EPCOT and within an hour we were able to speed walk and see all the attractions we had missed or were too impatient for earlier in the afternoon.

[More Disney memories to come…]

Walt Disney World: Part 2

[Click here for Part 1]
Tom Sawyer’s Island

After surviving all those rides without a breather, Adam and I decided to start the calm part of our Magic Kingdom tour. Off we headed to Tom Sawyer Island where we could go at our own pace and take pictures of whatever caught our fancy.

Tom Sawyer’s Island was like an oasis in the middle of family friendly madness. No lines to take the raft over from the “mainland” and we didn’t really run into another soul while we explored the gorgeous trails and made our way through the dimly lit caves.

As soon as we arrived on the dock, Adam began the soundtrack of our tour on the island – Rush’s “Tom Saywer”. Which I’m sure is EXACTLY what Disney envisioned as they began developing this attraction.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to snap a picture (or even think to get video) of the Barrel Bridge. It was truly one of my highlights of the Island…or maybe it was Adam’s shock when the barrels became unstable as soon he tried to cross. HILARIOUS!

Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse

One of my most vivid memories from Disney when I was 7 was climbing through the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. I have always loved the movie and remembered the treehouse as being really awesome.

I also don’t remember any other families being around when we went up in it, unfortunately that wasn’t the case when we toured it. It was PACKED, you really couldn’t stop to take in all the elements because there was a steady stream of people right behind you. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it and really liked being in the treetops above the park. I’d definitely climb it again!

The treehouse concluded our tour of the Magic Kingdom, because we had lunch reservations in Germany! But we couldn’t leave the park without the quintessential park picture, could we?

Magic Kingdom Tips:
  • If you get the Unofficial Guide that I recommend in the previous post, follow the plans to the letter. We never had to wait more than a few minutes for any ride because we used it religiously.
  • Need a family portrait with everyone in it? Ask any park photographer hawking the Photo Pass to take your picture with your camera. Not only will you get everyone in your photo, but you won’t have to pay Disney prices to get copies after your trip. Additionally, the photographers are strategically placed throughout the park to get the best background in the shot! I’ll admit we felt a little weird taking advantage of this the first couple of times, but after a few awesome shots we never thought twice about asking and this works in EVERY park!
  • Start early! We got there when the park opened and were able to get in all of our must dos before lunch. Sure, we easily could have spent the entire day there, but since we only had 2 days in the parks we had to cram in what we wanted quick and early.
[More Disney memories to come…]

Walt Disney World: Part 1

In April, Adam and I went to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida to celebrate the wedding of one of my dear college friends and sorority sisters. We spent a whirlwind 2 days in the parks and rode all of our top choice rides, before being guests at a magical wedding and reception that only Disney could deliver.

I spent the weeks leading up to our trip prancing around our house singing “M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E” and trying to perfect my Donald Duck impression (I failed), while Adam was in charge of logistics for meal reservations so that we would best use our meal plan. Seeing as it was our first adult trip (and Adam’s only trip), we were fairly naive in what to expect and once we opened up our Unofficial Guidebook we became quickly overwhelmed with options. We decided to read up on the to-dos at each park and then made a list of our top preferences in each to maximize our time.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s even possible to maximize your time in Disney, especially when you only have a 2 day park hopper pass, but we gave it our best shot.

We started our first day in the parks at Magic Kingdom. I had fond memories of this park from when I had come to Disney when I was 7. I remembered the Tea Cups, Space Mountain, Cinderella’s Castle, and The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House fondly – so those were high on our “must do” list.

Space Mountain

Thankfully, the extra hour our first day was at Magic Kingdom, so we arrived bright and early that morning to try and beat the masses. According to our guidebook, we should make a beeline for Space Mountain right when the doors open to avoid lines. Beeline we did and were among the first 50 riders that day. After the ride, we agreed that except for the fact that we felt like we would be decapitated at any moment (not a fun feeling mind you), we enjoyed the dips and twists and thrills. Adam added that he “wouldn’t ride it with children because he’d be yelling ‘Oh shit! Oh shit!’ the entire time.”

Cinderella’s Castle

After thanking God that we didn’t lose our heads on Space Mountain we headed towards the tamest part of Magic Kingdom – Cinderella’s Castle. As we got closer I remarked that “it was a whole lot smaller than I remembered it”.

Oh the dashed dreams and memories of my childhood.

It was still beautiful and enchanting but the scale I had in my head was much, much larger than what my eyes saw in real life.

After we exited the castle, I dragged Adam to buy Mouse ears. Oh yes, I did – and we both wore them proudly for the rest of the day.

It’s a Small World

Once our ears were securely placed on our heads, off we went to what many call the most annoying ride in the park. Grabbing a fast pass for Peter Pan along the way. I know I probably made my parents ride this ride several times as a child so it was the least I could do to ride it once with Adam. It was serene and peaceful and would probably be much more enjoyable under the influence.

Nevertheless, being the pansies we are we both really enjoyed the ride, but agreed that it could get old after 2 turns through.

Mad Tea Party

Once “It’s a Small World” was firmly embedded in our head off we went to the tea cups. It was everything I remembered and possibly has a place among my favorite rides. We had a blast taking video and pictures on this ride. Oh, and also making our tea cup spin as fast as possible. I mean, what else are you supposed to do on the Tea Cups? WINNING!

Peter Pan’s Flight

After the Tea Cups, it was time to use our fast pass for Peter Pan. I felt really guilty when we showed up with our fast passes and cut in front of at least 90 folks in line.

I’m weird like that.

Once I got over my guilt (it didn’t take too long) and we stepped on the conveyor belt that matched us up with our ship, I became truly enchanted.  This was easily one of my favorite rides at Disney. I truly felt like I was flying and really loved all the characters that were included throughout our “journey”. Adam, however, probably could’ve done without my rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly” while we were in our private ship on the ride.

[More Disney memories to come…]

Mölkky

Several years ago, I visited Finland with my mother and sister. We had a wonderful time staying with a past exchange student’s mother in the quaint countryside, eating traditional home-cooked meals, braving windy days, and strolling cobblestone streets.

In our downtime, we were introduced to a traditional Finnish game called Mölkky (or, as I like to call it, The Finnish Log Game). The game is simple to play and we quickly became addicted to playing it every night of our stay. Towards the end of our trip, I made it my mission to purchase a version of it to bring back to the states. This game has followed me to every picnic, team outing, beach vacation, retreat, and BBQ I have attended in the last 3 years. It brings out the competitive streak in my most mild-mannered of friends and sometimes leaves us scratching our heads as to how a stick of wood can bounce around a pin mere centimeters away.

This weekend I took my Finnish Log Game to a women’s retreat with the church Adam and I have been attending in Austin, and once again I found lots of people enjoying the game and wanting to play many times over. It reminded me to bring it out hibernation when I’m at home, because I love playing it so much.

As with many games, I’m sure the rules I learned to play by are quite different that the original rules, but who cares when you’re having fun?

And yes, I’m aware that video was filmed in France – not Finland – but it was the most fun representation I could find 🙂

Mayfield = Heaven

This past weekend, Adam and I stumbled upon the Mayfield Park and Preserve in Austin. It’s quite possible it’s Austin’s best kept secret..but now I’m letting the cat out of the bag.

This place is incredible. From its perfectly maintained gardens, to its free-roaming peacocks, to its hiking trails along and across streams; it’s officially my new favorite place in Austin.

After the torrential downpour Austin experienced Monday evening and early Tuesday morning, Adam and I decided that later this week would be the perfect time to re-visit Mayfield and hike the trails. Camera in tow.

Wow. I just thought the garden area of the park was gorgeous. But these trails? Some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. It was a total escape and you truly felt like you weren’t in the middle of a large city.

Texas Bluebonnets were in perfect harmony next to the rugged cacti that could be found throughout the park.

And, if you’re patient enough (or, like us, time it just right) you might just catch the peacock showing their full colors.

I’m certain that we will become regular visitors of this hidden Austin gem.

Shake your tail feathers.

Glorious Junk

One of the nice things about living in Austin is the individuality that you find. Whether it be walking down the street, taking in Christmas lights or just exploring new neighborhoods while aimlessly driving. You really never know what to expect.

This weekend my friend Sarah visited us from Arkansas and we took the opportunity to visit The Cathedral of Junk. A guy started the project back 1988 in his backyard as a way to have fun and build his version of a clubhouse. Since then, it’s become a 3 story tall structure made entirely of junkyard finds and it’s still in his backyard.

He estimates that it contains over 60 tons of junk. Yep, 60 TONS – most of which people brought to him.

Full of lawnmower wheels, car bumpers, kitchen utensils, ladders, cables, bottles, circuit boards, bicycle parts, old AOL installation CD-ROMs, and anything else you could possibly imagine it’s quite impressive and beautiful – in that weirdly awesome Austin way.

It’s a true Austin treasure and one that I’m certain we’ll be visiting again – especially when we have visitors.

Napa Valley Honeymoon

The morning after our wedding we hailed a cab, which had just dropped off Joe Jackson at a nearby IHOP (For real. A friend who was randomly at the same IHOP vouched that he was there) and headed to the airport. Apparently, Mr. Jackson was craving pecans and didn’t tip the cabbie.

I digress…

Our honeymoon took us to Napa Valley, where we holed up for 5 days at The Cottages of Napa Valley, eating, drinking, and generally being married.

Cottages at Napa Valley

I had a small weight gain during the trip, which I attribute to the daily pastry baskets which were discreetly delivered to our doorstep each morning. They looked something like this:

pastry basket

Our first full day in the valley took us to Sonoma. I absolutely adored their quaint downtown area full of locally owned boutiques, museums and tasting bars. On this day we also had a stroke of amazing luck. We drove by a little hole in the wall restaurant called Schellville Grill and decided to stop for lunch. Turns out, Guy Fieri has featured it on the Food Network. I opted for a salad while Adam enjoyed a sandwich. After our meal, we paid (including a tip, don’t call us Mr. Jackson) and headed to our car. That’s when “Uncle Bob” ran over to greet us from his Prius.

Uncle Bob: Are you folks wine tasting today?

Adam: Yes sir! We’re on our honeymoon and just getting started for the day.

Uncle Bob: Congratulations! You should make a stop at Ravenswood. Take my card and tell them Uncle Bob sent you.

Adam: Thanks so much, we’ll be sure to check them out.

Me: So nice to meet you! Have a good day.

We went our separate ways and as we were pulling out of the parking lot, I looked at the card and saw that it was not only Uncle Bob’s business card, but handwritten on the back was 2 free tastings courtesy of him. Typically in Napa Valley you pay anywhere from $10 – $25 per tasting, some wineries let you split tastings, but not many. Thanks to Uncle Bob we saved $30…and used our savings to buy the best Moscato either of us have ever tasted. We’d have never gone to Ravenswood if not for Uncle Bob.

Kaz Winery was also an off-the-beaten path find for us. When we passed the painted wine barrels at the entrance? Adam made a U-turn. Thank goodness for that. Kaz was an understated, no frills winery and had a metal chicken greeting guests at the front door. Though they specialized in dry wines, I was entertained by their random assortment of 80s vinyl while Adam sampled wine. He even got to cork his own bottle!

Sonoma

Day 3 is better known as the day Adam tried to kill me. Ok, not really, but it sure felt like it – and it was my own fault. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Adam’s an avid cyclist. Me? Notsomuch.
  • Adam wanted to rent a tandem bike in Yountville and, being the head over heels in love new wife that I was, I cautiously agreed.
  • Adam wanted us to ride a short 14 mile loop and promised we’d stop at wineries that look appealing along the way.
  • Adam and I are both 6’2″. The back seat of a tandem is not built for a 6’2″ person, so I got to ride for 14 miles with my mid-thighs on a bike seat.
  • Adam failed to mention…err, remind me…that cycling typically means you ride on highway shoulders as cars zip past you at the marked speed limit, or faster. Including large trucks.

Let’s just say I freaked. out.

And could barely walk for a day and a half after the ride.

But hey, we got some good pictures.

Winning.

Day 4 was our last day in the Valley and we made the most of it. We woke up early and headed north. It’s safe to say I drank tasted more wine that day than I have in my entire life. I was quite the cool cucumber.

We walked into a castle, but decided to save our tasting money for a winery up the road we had heard a lot about, Sterling Vineyards. We splurged at this winery, getting the full package for tasting which included an additional 3 tastings after the winery tour – for a total of 7 tastings. All were fantastic, but the highlight of this winery for me was the gondola ride from the parking lot to the winery. It was so serene and beautiful.

Chateau Montelana was also a highlight for us, as we had just watched the movie about it on Netflix in our cottage the night before. The grounds of the Chateau were absolutely breathtaking.

We ended our last day in Napa Valley with dinner at Bottega. We shared our first risotto and indulged in some amazing truffle-parmigiano fries. Adam ordered “Smoked & Braised Natural Short Ribs” with a whole grain mustard spaetzle, Sicilian pickles, quince paste & smokey horseradish jus, while I ordered the “Forno Roasted Chicken Breast” with “Marsala” sautéed forest mushrooms, marinated grilled onions, truffle honey and sherry vinaigrette. Both dishes were exceptional and at the end of the meal our waiter convinced us to order the house chocolate “cake” that wasn’t listed on the menu. It. Was. Phenomenal.

Our final full day in California took us back to San Francisco, with a slight detour thanks to Adam. Turns out Highway 1 is Adam’s dream road. At least in the US.

My hubby is a HUGE Top Gear fan and took this opportunity to channel his inner Stig. Let’s just say I have never seen him so chipper and filled with glee than I did while he was driving on Highway 1. Meanwhile, I was busy saying “OOOHHH! Pull over, I need to get a picture” or “OMG!!! REAL SEALS!!! IN. THE. WILD!!”

Highway 1 was incredible and I think Adam summed up the scenery best when he said, “This is proof God exists.” I have to agree, as I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Mid-way down Highway 1, I mention that I’m feeling a bit hungry and since it was almost time for lunch, Adam informs me that he already scoped out a place for us to eat in Bolinas. Unbeknownst to me, Bolinas is costal community known for its reclusive residents – I’d call them full out hippies, but that might not be PC – who TEAR DOWN any sign providing directions into their unincorporated community.

Thanks to Adam, we managed to find the town just fine.

I think the status I posted to Facebook as we were entering the “downtown area” sums up my feelings perfectly:

I have officially never felt more out of place wearing J Crew than I did when Adam pulled up in front of a “think globally eat locally” cafe for lunch in a very hippie “socially acknowledged nature loving town” called Bolinas. Needless to say, he loves me so much he didn’t make me get out of the car.

And it’s true, I was so scared of what the hippies reclusive residents might do to me that I refused to get out of the car for lunch.

It was a wonderful trip and was exactly the relaxation we wanted after the hustle and bustle from our wedding festivities. Now I just have to figure out when we can go back – I miss our cottage…and the wine.