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.

DSC00820

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.

DSC00832

DSC00840

DSC00846

DSC00845

DSC00855

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?

DSC00871

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.

DSC00876

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.

DSC00887

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.

Advertisements

Cliffs of Moher & Galway, Ireland

Leaving Dingle was hard.

DSC00651

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

DSC00653

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 7.51.06 PM

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

DSC00668

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.

DSC00683

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.

DSC00693

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.

DSC00710

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.

DSC00704

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).

DSC00718

DSC00772

DSC00748

DSC00745

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.

DSC00756

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.

DSC00766

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.

DSC00806

This pub was very eclectic and quite busy.

DSC00787

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

DSC00785

 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.

DSC00664

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.

DSC00618

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.

DSC00612

DSC00613

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

DSC00614

…while Adam had himself a pint.

DSC00616

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.

DSC00617

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.

DSC00619

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.

DSC00630

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.

ireland2

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.

DSC00383

DSC00402

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

DSC00397

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

DSC00413

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

DSC00421

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.

DSC00432

DSC00425

DSC00433

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.

DSC00454

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.

DSC00462

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.

DSC00490

DSC00479

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

DSC00500

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.

DSC00504

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.

DSC00541

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.

DSC00524

DSC00532

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!

map1

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.

DSC00191

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.

DSC00204

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.

DSC00207

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.

DSC00221

DSC00229

DSC00261

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.

DSC00271

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.

DSC00291

DSC00316

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

DSC00348

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:

DSC00165

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

DSC00171

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.

DSC00169

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.

DSC00175

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

DSC00172

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.

DSC00190

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.

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.

Dallas: Final Reflections

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit nervous about going on a weekend trip with someone I met on Twitter over a year ago, later friended on Facebook, and spent a collective three, maybe four, IRL (In Real Life) hours with. I mean, I knew we shared a similar sense of sarcastic humor and neither one of us take ourselves too seriously; we both just go with the flow. At least, that’s what I gathered from our Twitter and Facebook statuses. So I hoped for the best, and had a slight fear of the worst.

Why was I worried? Because we are so.much.alike.

We have blogged simultaneously, have unknowingly (well, until one of us posts it on Facebook) listened to the same song at the same time and share an affinity for Anthropologie. Maybe our strong similarities would be too much. Maybe halfway to Dallas I’d want to jump ship…because someone’s driving on the shoulder.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

Except for the shoulder part.

We had a blast! We laughed and gabbed the whole trip. We found even more similarities between us, such as our love for vintage signage, vintage furniture, the houses of Highland Park, Italian food and perfectly tailored designer clothing works of art we can’t afford.

It almost felt like we were old friends. Jen Lancaster even asked if we were sisters. We just meshed. As far as I know, I didn’t get on her nerves – I mean, she’s still texting me – and she sure as heck didn’t get on mine.

So I guess the moral of this trip is that you really CAN become IRL friends through Twitter. Who’d a thunk it?

And Noelle? Thanks to your super cute Jen Lancaster approved skirt and shorts, you’ve now made me OBSESSED with bold print skirts and shorts.

(yeah, we’ve got that in common, too)

Up in SMOKE

Day 3

[click here to see Day 1]

[click here to see Day 2]

For me, the highlight of our trip to the “Big D” was a happy accident. On a whim, and at the recommendation of one of Noelle’s friends, we drove over to North Oak Cliff in Dallas to have brunch at SMOKE. We didn’t know much about the restaurant, except that their pancakes were to die for.

Well, lemme tell you. Only three little words can describe the meal I had.

Oh.My.Gawd!

As soon as Noelle pulled into the parking lot I had a feeling we were in for a treat. I immediately felt transported to another era, because SMOKE is a part of the adjacent vintage motor-lodge The Belmont Hotel. As such, the architecture was spectacular and the scenery breathtaking. It also didn’t hurt that the aroma in the air was scrumptious. My mouth was watering even before we stepped foot in the door.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I entered the restaurant, but what I opened the door to was a pleasant surprise. In a word, the restaurant was Texas. It was perfectly decorated with everything you’ve ever associated with Texas style – casual, vintage, cozy, and stylish. Plus, when the hostess seating you is wearing slightly torn jeans and boots, you know you’ve picked the right spot. It was? Impeccable.

We were seated next to the fireplace at a table for two and immediately eyed drinks we had to try. Noelle picked the Bluebonnet – a mixology she’s STILL combing the Internet for – and I chose The Icepick – which contained my favorite Sweet Tea Vodka in the world. Hands down, it was the best cocktail I have ever tasted: citrusy, southern and refreshing. I can’t wait to recreate it at home this summer.

As we looked over the menu, Noelle decided to go with the recommendation of her friend and ordered the pancakes, while I decided to try out their made to order omelet. I’ll let Noelle speak to her dish, but as far as omelets go, this was the best I’ve ever had. The fluffy eggs were stuffed with spinach, cheddar cheese, tomatoes and pork andouille shredded sausage. Additionally, my omelet was served with a side salad tossed in SMOKE’s own Radish Vinaigrette dressing, which I could easily have drank by the gallon. It was THAT good.

We both also ordered a biscuit and side of bacon. May I just say that this biscuit was the biggest biscuit I have ever seen, and I enjoyed every.last.bite. Additionally, the bacon? Oh, the BACON. It was at least a quarter inch thick, cooked and seasoned to perfection – I’m talking better than Petit Jean perfection (Arkansans, please don’t disown me) and caused me to feel guilty for not being able to finish my serving – I barely ate one piece! I even joked that we should take what bacon we didn’t eat to go and enjoy on the way back to Arkansas. Thanks to the bacon, our relationship came full circle at SMOKE.

Biggest.Biscuit.Ever.

Thickest and Tastiest Pork Belly Bacon Ever.

After stuffing ourselves to the brim at SMOKE, we decided to walk around the grounds of the Belmont Hotel. It literally felt like an alternate universe there. The vibe felt very Palm Springs and I even commented that I felt like I was at The Parker [based on my limited knowledge thanks to Bravo]. We walked up the hill from SMOKE to the lobby entrance and there it was: a pristine vintage Thunderbird convertible. I was in Heaven.

Then? I entered the hotel lobby and saw the stairs. The tile-trimmed stairs. My heart skipped a beat, or 10.

As I rounded the corner of the lobby, meandered through the bar, and walked out on the back patio I encountered what I have declared the most perfect view of the Dallas skyline on this trip. Though, sadly, this picture doesn’t it do the view justice – blame the photographer [aka moi]. Just pretend the skyline continues out to the right of this picture and imagine yourself sitting on the patio, sipping an Icepick and reading Jen Lancaster’s latest book. Stopping occasionally to take in the perfectly overgrown yet maintained flowerbeds, colorful mosaic walkway and the idyllic Dallas skyline in a single glimpse. I can’t wait to go back.

Then we walked down the stairs off the patio and back up to the top of the hill, where more rooms were located, each turn and incline leading to a more incredible view than the last and each step begging me never to leave. The perfectly unadorned architecture continued throughout with pops of vibrant colors appearing in outdoor furniture and hotel room doors.

Then we reached the pool. I have no words and I’ve run out of adjectives so I’ll let these pictures do the talking…

Unfortunately, we realized that we  eventually had to head back to reality and decided to begin our short trek back to the car. After we passed the final Bar Belmont sign, I knew this weekend of complete perfection was quickly coming to an end.

We had only two more stops to make: We Are 1976 and Sprinkles. Or, at least we thought we did, until we saw this:

The yard of this pepto-colored house was jumbled with all types of vintage chairs and we just had to make the block and see what was inside. Turns out the house appears to be under the ownership of four very nice Hispanic men, all of whom appeared to be straight as the day is long and share a common bond in refinishing diamonds in the rough. Every style and condition of vintage chair could be found in this house, along with a plethora of fantastic fabric options and paint finishes. If only I had a house to decorate.

One day, right Adam? 🙂

Final Reflections post to come…

Shelving & Shoes & Signs, oh my!

Day 2

[click here to see Day 1]

Saturday, I introduced Noelle to the shoe Heaven that is Nordstrom Rack. (It only took us 3 doors and 2 stairwells to find our way out of the parking garage…) Nordstrom Rack was having their one day only Large Size Shoe Event which I typically have great luck at, but, sadly, the selection for my size was a bit meager in Dallas. Noelle, on the other hand, had great luck finding gorgeous shoes – most of which were black sandals. 🙂

After browsing through some other shops, we headed off to meet Adam and his brother at IKEA so Noelle could buy some shelving units. Miraculously, we were in and out of IKEA in under an hour and a half! We’re so efficient. We Adam and his brother loaded the shelves into our car and off we headed to an uneventful lunch at Corner Bakery.

Adam channeled his inner Devo in IKEA

After lunch, we said our goodbyes and Noelle and I headed to NorthPark. Essentially, Mecca for shopaholics. We waltzed in and out of stores, fondled handbags we couldn’t afford – Balenciaga for me, Cole Haan for Noelle, swooned over the works of art in Carolina Herrera – and the Argentinean salesman, and obsessed over everything in Kate Spade. Life was grand.

MY Balenciaga Seashore Damier Tote

That evening, we decided to take a walking photography tour of downtown Dallas. May I just say that I fell in LOVE with the downtown? It’s so retro, yet modern and I just ate it up!

After a few blocks, we encountered the getaway of a newlywed couple outside of a hotel. We stopped to watch as the sweet couple were escorted out of the hotel by a trumpet and saxophone playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”. We watched as they said their goodbyes and hugged their families and I teared up a bit knowing that in just a few months that will be me. It was so sweet and so happy.

As we continued to meander through downtown, we came across lots of awesome vintage neon signs and learned that we have a mutual appreciation for them.

There was also an incident with a security guard in a bank building, because Noelle wanted a picture of the lobby chandelier. He left his desk in the lobby to come outside and tell us that because we were on the same side of the street as the building we couldn’t take straight up pictures of buildings.

His reasoning? Heightened security after 9/11.

My response to his reasoning? Yeah, we look like the typical terrorists.

Day 3 to come…

I MET JEN LANCASTER!!!!

This weekend, I went to Dallas with someone I met on the Internet. Twitter to be specific. I came back alive.

Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start…

Noelle and I met on Twitter. I thought the tweet that sparked this friendship referenced my father’s grocery store and how I always choose self-checkout in stores for the nostalgia, but I’d be lying. In fact, the first tweet conversation I could find was about a kid who loves bacon. Which would prove prophetic for this trip…

Several months ago, when our favorite author, Jen Lancaster, posted the book tour for her newest book, “If You Were Here”, and I saw that she was going to come to Dallas, I innocently recommended that we road trip it for the weekend. I never thought it would actually happen, but it did and I’m ecstatic! We decided to make it a long weekend full of shopping and eating with no regard to calories.

Day 1

We found an awesome boutique hotel called Hotel Indigo, that was pretty much a beach cottage in the heart of downtown Dallas. Upon arrival, and after a brief stint wherein Noelle drove on the shoulder of the interstate, the bellman asked if he could help us with our luggage. “Yes,” we replied. Quickly followed by Noelle saying, “Don’t forget the tripod!” Because who DOESN’T need a tripod when staying in a hotel room with someone you met on Twitter? [She actually wanted a good night shot of our room’s view]

We loved our blueberry room with pineapple bedding and polka dot couch and didn’t even mind the lack of hot water early Saturday morning. Wait, I should rephrase that…Noelle didn’t mind the lack of hot water Saturday morning. I had hot water, as it came back on right after she finished getting ready.

View this post on Instagram

Cutest. Hotel. Ever!

A post shared by Megan Taylor (@megtay) on

Friday night, after we had checked into the hotel, we headed to…

Meet.Jen.Lancaster!!!

Noelle had called earlier in the week to reserve books and signing tickets for us. Group “A” tickets! Let me just say, the Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble rocked! They were very accommodating to us since we drove from out-of-state for the signing.

We arrived at the signing about 45 minutes before it was scheduled to begin and people-watched/eavesdropped on the conversations around us. An employee came around to get personalization information for the signing, the majority of folks, including us, just wanted their name.

Everyone except the woman two seats down from us. She had approximately four tattoos about Jesus and religion on her arms and one on her calf. When the employee asked her how she wanted Jen to personalize her book she responded, “Promise we’ll best friends for infinity and beyond.”

Then there were the stalker/brown-nosers of the group who brought Jen plaid gift-wrapped boxes and luxury lotions. Yeah, you guys suck, even if you were carrying a gorgeous Michael Kors handbag and wore a fantabulous green and turquoise dress.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince [incredibly gorgeous, super-sweet, and hilarious] Jen to grab dinner and drinks with us that night [had she obliged, I’m certain WE would have become her best friends for infinity and beyond], but we still enjoyed a great meal at Maggiano’s Little Italy in NorthPark – where we were seated in a cozy and slightly romantic semi-circular booth.

View this post on Instagram

Martini nightcap…

A post shared by Megan Taylor (@megtay) on

Days 2 and 3 to come…