Fredericksburg – Birthday in TX Wine Country

I’m a little slow with this post, but several weekends ago we headed to Fredericksburg with our friends Jon and Candace to celebrate Jon’s 30th birthday. Fredericksburg is in central Texas just north of the Austin and San Antonio areas and about a 4-hour drive from Fort Worth. This area has really become a Texas attraction and for good reason. There are 15+ wineries along a beautiful stretch of road, countless antique shops and boutiques and cute little B&B’s tucked in everywhere in between.

The first morning we did tastings at Becker Vineyards and Torre di Pietra. Then we broke for lunch (and the Irish rugby game that was unfortunately cancelled) at the Altdorf Restaurant & Biergarten and a little shopping along their Main Street. On the recommendation of Daily Candy, I made a point to visit Red and then walked by Dogologie, which were both adorable and where I picked up a cute little engagement gift for my friend Michelle and a new girly dog collar for Ms. Sigma. The Husband and I also found the perfect sideboard piece for our kitchen that we didn’t buy, but that we can now not get out of our heads.

We still had enough daylight to fit in two more wineries – the Woodrose Winery, before a super yummy dinner at Mamacita’s Mexican Restaurant. After this we were in a food and fun coma. But the best part about traveling with really great friends is that when you are too tired and full from a day of fun and a great dinner, you can just buy two bottles of wine and a six-pack, head back to the hotel room, play games and just enjoy each others company.

The next day we stopped at the Pedernales Vineyard who then recommended nearby Williams Chris Vineyards (have to love that friendly Texas business spirit) before heading home. The Enchante we bought at Williams Chris was excellent. We had such a great little weekend with great friends. I highly recommend it as a long-weekend getaway.

I hate this picture of me, but since the other three of you look great I'll suffer through.

The spotted dog's new spotted collar.

Image Credit: Woodrose Winery

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Irish Honeymoon: Last Stop – Dublin

So we saved Dublin for last to kind of end with a bang. We stayed at the beautiful Clontarf Castle Hotel. This hotel did a really neat mix of modern and traditional with their decor that made it super edgy, but still stately. The rooms and service were impeccable, but the location was less than stellar. It was about a 20-minute cab ride from anything we wanted to see, which gets pricey. We finally figured out the busy system which helped, but next time I’d rather stay somewhere less fancy and closer to the action.

The first stop was the Guinness brewery. This place is no ordinary brewery – it is a multi-block complex/city in the heart of Dublin. There is a 6-story museum to showcase the complex process they use to make ensure the quality of their beer. We learned how to properly poor a pint, enjoyed a beer in their sky bar that overlooks the city and took in all the history of the museum. Since I do corporate communications, I loved the Guinness ad section – it was so neat to see how much their campaigns have evolved.

 

We spent the next two days exploring the city. We visited the Trinity College Library where we saw the beautiful long room and the Book of Kell.

 

We saw countless Irish artifacts and the infamous Bog Bodies (which were crazy) at the National Museum. We walked through the covered market, took pictures with the Molly Malone statue, explored the Guarda Museum, stood in the awe of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and had beers at the historic Temple Bar.

 

It was truly a wonderful trip and the perfect honeymoon for us. We will definitely be back to (1) attend a live rugby game and (2) see all of the stuff we didn’t get to see this trip!

Salt Lake City

I have so many things I want to post and not enough time! This last week was incredibly busy. I took a whirlwind work trip to Salt Lake City and then to Austin, and the Husband left for a work trip for the weekend.

This was my first time to visit Salt Lake and I spent a whopping 12 hours there, eight of which were spent in an office. But the other four hours allowed me to see just enough of the city to want to go back. The mountain views are just amazing and their new downtown area was really neat. A brand new “city center” just opened there last month that is half regular mall, half outlet-type mall that is partially enclosed with a glass retractable roof, but with several open courtyards that connect a few city blocks. There was a H+M store sandwiched between J.Crew and Anthropolgie so it immediately got my attention. We also had dinner downtown at a cute little place named Eva’s.

Eva’s is a small plates kind of place, which I’m usually totally against (I’m all for sharing, but I want to share real portions, not samples), but the food here was so good that I got over it. I think we ordered half the menu and there was nothing I didn’t enjoy. The gnocchi was out of this world; the beets and goat cheese made me actually like beets; and the mac and cheese in phyllo makes me want to put everything in phyllo. They also had a lot of local flavors on their drink menu. I had a great little chenin blanc (Castle Creek, 2009), someone else had a Utah whiskey with muddled lemons, and the other two had local craft beers. The décor was also really cute – lots of wood, mini liquor bottles with baby’s breath stems, and chalkboard menus. I will definitely be making a point to re-visit the SLC – probably during ski season.

Irish Honeymoon: Stop 6 – Cobh and Kilkenny

So after our early rising in Cork, The next morning we started out early and headed to Cobh, a beautiful coastal town and the last stop the Titanic made before beginning its fateful journey. The town had a very medieval feel and some really neat architecture. We explored the very interesting Titanic/shipyard museum and took pictures along the pier where the Titanic last set sail (I do realize the Titanic didn’t have sails, I just couldn’t think of another appropriate phrase).

After lunch (at a Papa John/McDonald’s combo restaurant – I know we can get both of those things here, but not from the same counter!) we drove to Kilkenny which was a really great little town. We stayed at the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel which was beautiful and seriously in the best location. We could walk everywhere. Kilkenny is home of the Smithwicks’s Brewery, several cathedrals and a whole host of castles – we didn’t really have time to visit any of these (and it was Sunday so many were closed) so we just walked up and down the streets taking in the sights.

We went back to a long nap (and I finally finished my book) and went out for dinner around 9pm. Our options for dinner were few and far between that late on a Sunday, but we found a really great Italian restaurant, Ristorante Rinuccini. It was such a nice change of pace – while the seafood is awesome in Ireland, I was pretty sick of everything by this point. We then went to: (1) Kytler’s Inn, a famous pub that dates back to 1324; (2) some other bar (not a pub) where there was a well-known Irish band playing and about 500 college-aged kids partying their pants off on a Sunday night; and finally (3) Matt the Miller’s where the bartender let us serve our own pints. It ended up being such a fun night.

The bartender at Matt the Miller’s also told us about the Dunmore Caves, that we “just had to go to” (I’m pretty sure he volunteers there in his off time). Well it got the Husband all excited so the next morning we headed to Dublin and stopped along the way at the Cave. And I have to admit it was really cool and well worth the stop.

Irish Honeymoon: Stop 5 – The Blarney Stone and Cork

The next morning we headed to Cork which was unlike any city we had visited so far. It was very industrial, much more urban, and an absolute maze to navigate. We stayed at Hotel Isaacs, which was in a good location, but a nightmare for parking and the rooms were pretty average. Once we got all checked-in, we headed to the Blarney Castle to cross “Kissing the Blarney Stone” off our to do list and explore Druid’s Circle. The grounds of the Blarney Castle were beautiful and the castle was huge. We climbed the many stairs to the top of the castle, hung upside down, and kissed the stone. The legend is that once kissed, the stone bestows the gift of eloquence. Now if only there were stones for gracefulness and patience…

After this the Husband wanted to stop to visit the City Gaol in Cork, the historic prison that is now a museum. (He did not get any objections from me because I have a fascination with almost all things prison related – I seriously DVR like 7 crime shows a week). It was a really neat tour (though fairly creepy). But Ireland has such a tumultuous political history that there were a lot of really interesting stories being retold about why the prisoners were there and how they were treated.

Their fake prison guards and prisoners looked like zombies. Shudder.

We then went to spruce ourselves up a little and headed to an excellent dinner at Cornstore. This was a restaurant the Husband found/searched for after he discovered chateaubriand at my birthday dinner. So when he heard this place had it, we of course had to go, but I’m so glad we did. The food was awesome, the décor was amazing and it was right in the mix of things. I was admittedly not crazy about Cork at first, but it had a pretty awesome nightlife. We tried several pubs after dinner and heard some great live music.

The next morning I wanted to punch my new Husband in the stomach because he made me get up at 7am to go watch the Ireland v. Italy rugby game. The Husband is a new but avid rugby fan and he wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to watch his favorite team in their home country with their home fans even if it was 7am. So we went to a pub/sports bar a few blocks away, had some tea and an Irish breakfast and cheered them on. (By the way the bar was packed and we barely got a seat even that early in the morning. I’m very thankful that college football doesn’t start that early).

Irish Honeymoon: Stop 4 – The Ring of Kerry and Killarney

I was obviously sad to leave the conveniences of Dromoland, but there was still much of Ireland on our agenda. We spent the entire next day driving the Ring of Kerry. I’m going to do this post mostly in pictures because this entire day was all about the amazing views, but a few of the highlights include: the bakery in Killorglin, the Kerry Bog Village and Red Fox Inn in Glenbeigh (where we tried the alleged “Best Irish Coffee in the World” and found our next breed of dog – the Irish Wolfhound), the Skellig Islands, Staigue Fort, Kenmare and finally Moll’s Gap. We ran out of daylight before we ran out of things to see.

That evening we stayed in Killarney which was a surprisingly fun and very young town. We stayed at a nice and cute, centrally located B&B, Abbey Lodge. We got a great dinner and then did some pub hopping to see some local live Irish music sessions. It was a Friday night so lots of people were out and about and we really enjoyed exploring the area. The Husband and I both agreed that Killarney is definitely on the list for the next trip.

Beer was very much a theme of this trip.

Irish Honeymoon: Stop 3 – Dromoland Castle and Bunratty

So the next stop was my favorite. The majority of our trip was a whirlwind and this was the leg where we got to slow down and just relax and enjoy each others company. We had a wonderful three-night stay at the beautiful Dromoland Castle (in the town of New-Market-on-Fergus). President Clinton, John Travolta and President George W. have all stayed at Dromoland, so I was unreasonably excited before we even got there. Plus, after two nights at McGann’s Pub I was ready for a little luxury. And luxurious it was.

We checked-in and were welcomed by a host of pleasant and super accommodating people. Our room was amazing – very large, gorgeous traditional decor, American outlets so I could finally use my straightener, huge very clean bathrooms, a view of a beautiful courtyard…ah…it was awesome. And, the things to do on the ground of the estate were endless – there’s an 18-hole golf course, full-service spa, fishing, archery, clay-pigeon shooting, biking, and tennis. I was beyond impressed.

The first afternoon we played a round of golf on their beautiful course and then had a steak dinner at the clubhouse’s Fig Tree Restaurant. Following dinner we went into New-Market-On-Fergus to visit a few of the local pubs.

The next morning we got up early, took part in Dromoland’s amazing breakfast, and then headed to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park that is about 15-20 minutes away. I think Bunratty Castle was my favorite castle we visited. It had so much history and the tour guides were fabulous. The Folk Park was also really fun. It is a reenactment of a small 19th century Victorian Irish community – staged houses, dressed up tour guides, lots of livestock and old-time stores where you could buy maps, Irish momentos and more. We had fish and chips at the infamous Durty Nelly’s next to the castle and then picked up our favorite brand of mead (honey wine where the word “honeymoon” was derived – how appropriate?!) at the Bunratty Winery down the road.

When we got back to Dromoland we took part in Mrs. White’s Tea, which involved wonderful tea (which the Husband loved) and tiers of sandwiches, scones, biscuits and super decadent sweets and chocolates (which I loved way more). We were so full from our afternoon spread that we skipped dinner and just went into town to try out the pubs we missed the night before.

The next morning we both went on our first fly-fishing trip with our very own Ghilles, Denis. This was definitely one of those activities the Husband was way more interested in doing than I was, but it ended up being so fun (maybe because I caught the only fish). But, the atmosphere alone made it worth while (I mean, do you see that swan?)

At this point, I was still mildly stressed about how cold I was going to get while on the water for 4 hours.

After several hours of fishing, we went back and got ready for a wonderful first-class dinner at Dromoland’s renowned Earl of Thomond Restaurant. We had 5+ courses and 2 bottles of Cotes du Rhone with fabulous service. We were so full (and tipsy) from dinner that we called it a night and ended our fabulous stay at Dromoland.

Another Year Means Another Party: Crazy for Crawfish

This year we have celebrated some major birthdays with our friends and family. We went to Lubbock to visit my brother for his, my whole family came to our house to celebrate my dad’s, we’ve been to two awesome crawfish boils, toured Texas wine country for another, had house parties for two more and celebrated three 30th birthdays. Since we have done all of this in 3 months, I think its time to dedicate a recurring post to it.

Crazy for Crawfish

Its crawfish season and we are so lucky to have two friends that wanted to celebrate their birthdays by eating those little mudbugs. Crawfish boils are one of the most fun Southern traditions and I love love love attending them (and eating until I’m sick).

Lindsay’s 30th: The first crawfish boil was for our friend Lindsay’s 30th birthday. As soon as it gets warm, we pretty much live at Lindsay and her husband’s house because they have a pool surrounded by a great big nice deck and beautiful plants. So, to celebrate her 30th and the amazingly warm weather we’ve been having, they decided to throw their first ever crawfish boil. Unfortunately, it rained that entire weekend, but that did not spoil our fun. We moved the festivities to the garage and started chowing down. You would have never guessed that was her husband’s first time boiling those little guys. The spice was excellent and they were all cooked to perfection. Lindsay and I also had a wonderful sparkling red wine that we have both come to love. I’ll try to hunt down the name for it…it is perfect for summer time.

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Lindsay's favorite peppermint ice cream cake.

Callie’s Annual Crawfish Celebration: The second crawfish boil was for my best friend from college, Callie. Callie’s Crawfish Birthday Celebration has become an annual event that you don’t miss. Her parents are from Louisiana and they know how to do it up right. In fact, they were the people who taught me how to eat a crawfish. The spice her dad uses is so good and so hot (it seriously lights my whole face up) and he includes all the fixins’ – corn on the cob, potatoes, mushrooms, sausage…it is so GOOD. I believe they ordered 60 lbs. this year and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a crawfish one left standing. Callie ordered the cutest crawfish tablecloths, cups and bowls that made everything that much more festive. The last two years we’ve had to battle ran, but not this year. It was a beautiful 80 degrees and we played games, caught up and celebrated our Cal-Pal.

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The birthday girl is wearing the super cute hat.

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Callie has been sprucing up her super cute apartment for the past year or so, so for her birthday I wanted to get her something for her house. Cal loves a good bloody mary and I love the gift of glassware so I made her a little gift bag with a couple of glasses from Potterybarn, Little Devil’s Seasoning from Williams and Sonoma, some cocktail napkins, a little olive dish and some gold tinsel skewers for her garnish.

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Coveted Style of the Week: Ahoy!

Coveted Style of the Week: Ahoy!

Everywhere I turn I’m seeing sailor-savvy fashion. A girl today at work is wearing it, my best friend Callie just got cute maritime shoes for her birthday, I just pinned the most awesome striped flats and the blogs I follow have all featured something nautically note-worthy in the last month. It appears I need to purchase some stripes and get ready for boat season.

Callie's Birthday Shoes

J.Crew

Today's Dillard's find.

 

Irish Honeymoon: Stop 2 – Ballindereen & Doolin

Okay, fair warning, these posts are really long, but I’ve made a commitment to be a better travel journaler (mostly because I have the worst memory EVER).  So…I’m sorry for the long windedness. I’ll post a short one next.

In front of McGann's Pub

After Galway we headed south to Doolin. Doolin is a stone’s throw from the Cliffs of Moher (which is an Ireland must-see), but we also heard it was a hub for Irish music, so naturally it was a no-brainer that we would stay a couple of nights in Doolin. (The Husband seriously loves Irish music, like listens to it all day everyday at a very loud decibel).

Ballindereen: On our way to Doolin we stopped over at a tiny town called Ballindereen. The Husband can trace one of his ancestors back to the Ballindereen Parish (a baptism), so we stopped there to see if we could gather any more information. We were lucky that it was a Sunday and were able to attend Mass at the Ballindereen Parish. After mass, we spoke with the priest about our search. Unfortunately, the records on hand didn’t go back that far, but the Priest promised to do some digging for us and email us later (I heart technology). Since we struck out here, we decided to go out to a few of the cemeteries in this area to see if we could find any more pieces to the family tree puzzle. Many would not think this is a fun or glamorous way to spend a honeymoon, but there was something really special about so fervently looking for information about my new family. The Husband is constantly trying to tell me facts about our ancestors, but this was the first time I felt like I got really into it. And, this sounds super morbid, but the cemeteries were beautiful. The sky is super gray, the grass is super green, there are Celtic crosses everywhere…it was just a very somber, breathtaking place. (We will definitely be making a trip back to Ireland in the future just to do genealogy).

The Burren: I, being the stellar navigator I am, took us the long way to Doolin through “The Burren,” but it was AMAZING. The entire drive was along the coast and the scenery was out of this world. Like I seriously can’t describe it with words. I highly recommend not taking the efficient road to Doolin. We stopped and explored the Dunguaire Castle. (Ireland has to have the most castles per capita – they are seriously everywhere). We stopped at Monk’s Seafood Pub and Restaurant where the Husband ordered a seafood platter that I expected to be a fried plate of goodness (Pappadeaux’s style), but it was the freshest, most diverse seafood platter I’ve ever seen. I think I ended up eating more of his than my own.

Doolin: After a little more driving, we finally arrived in Doolin, which is a tiny town made up of mostly farms, pubs and a few shops. When we were booking the trip we read this phenomenal review from a guy (I think on Yelp) about his stay at McGann’s Pub. He said it was a great little pub with nice rooms above it to rent. (I was picturing Amy Adams in Leap Year).

But guess what? He was a man and his idea of a “nice” little room was not my idea of a “nice” little room. It was bad enough that my very frugal husband was ready to forfeit our $26 (that should have probably been a sign to us that this place was less than awesome) and find a different place. But, I, of course, had to prove that I was a tough girl and sleep there for not one night but two nights. (For the record, if that occurred now, after 10 months of marriage, I would totally relocate (or sleep in the car)). Our solution to our accommodations was to go downstairs, drink large quantities of Bulmer’s and Guinness, listen to Irish music and wonder back upstairs tipsy enough to not think about where we were sleeping. But while the accommodations may be crappy, the pub and the live music are not. It was so authentic and packed with locals.

The next morning we woke up and drove out to the Cliffs of Moher. People are strategic about their visit out there because the fog is often so bad you can’t even see the cliffs, but we got so lucky and had a perfect clear view of the Cliffs. Later that evening we explored some more of Doolin and visited the other must-visit Irish music pub, Gus O’Connor’s. The music here was so neat. They were literally playing from a booth and just loving what they do. It was really fun to watch.

At a gift store next door to Gus O’Connor’s, we bought my new father-in-law a real Aran sweater. (The Aran Islands where these sweaters are made are just a day trip away, but we had a few people tell us the boat ride out there was not always reliable or worth spending a whole day on so we decided to save that until the next trip.)

Gus O’Connor’s crowd, however, did not even compare to the crowd at McDermott’s Pub (that is literally across the street from McGann’s – Ireland also has the most pubs per capita). Apparently, the band playing that evening was quite well-known and people of all ages came out to see them. There were well over 100 people packed into this small pub well until midnight on a Monday night! It was amazing. And even though they were packed, they still took the time to make proper Irish coffee by warming up the glass and using real heavy whipping crème and brown sugar. They were delicious.

Lisdoonvarna: Between our visit to the Cliffs and Gus O’Connor’s Pub, we stopped over in the town of Lisdoonvarna. Friends of ours suggested we at least make a stop here and we needed a place to do a load of laundry (the Husband underpacked) and send some postcards, so we took a walk through the town, ate breakfast and stopped into a couple of pubs (that would be the other Irish trend) including the Irish Arms. September is also the month for the famous Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. It was awesome. It looked like Valentine’s Day threw-up in that cute little town.

The Husband’s favorite phrase from this portion of the trip (that he way overuses to this day): “There are things we will be Doolin, and there are things we won’t be Doolin.”