Queen City Caffeine Crawl [@CharlotteNC]

I’ve done it before and I’m doing it again – this time on the opposite side of the Atlantic, and this time with a Queen City caffeine theme.

Charlotte, North Carolina has been home for over 2 years now. Since the day I arrived, I’ve been pretty bent on finding the best coffee this place has to offer. Come to think of it, that’s one of my top missions anywhere I go. It’s a close jostle with bookstores. But before going any further with this, let’s get something out of the way. Writer, you ask, is Charlotte known for its coffee? Reader, I say, no it is not! This search has been a difficult one but are they a-changing or what, these times?

I’ve been noticing a slow but sure growth of new places to stop for a cup of coffee in the Queen City. I love the idea of a ridiculous crawl and now felt like as good a time as any to launch the next installment. Café Cake Crawl wasn’t going to work here, so I had to scrap visions of a part two. Of the many coffee places I started to peg as potential stops while researching, none too many featured café cake options. If anything, planning for this yielded a clear North Carolinian distinction between coffee shops and bakeries. Down here those two just don’t mix (are you having that??) and Café Gluten-Free Zucchini Bread Crawl didn’t have the same ring to it.

Let’s get going with this quest for the best caffeination station. The rules: No chains (but local multi-locationers accepted). No additives to the coffee (I drink it black anyways and yes, my teeth do hate me). No to-go cups because I’m not that busy of a woman – substitute in some worry over a personal problem where if it’s served in a mug I will try to drink it before it’s cooled enough and therefore will ruin my t-buds and thus and thenceforth this crawl. Smallest size only, for fear of cardiac arrest (remember this one for later). And last but not least, must sit down to absorb the vibes (as the kids say) for at least 30 minutes in each individual location.

Understood? All aboard? Great. Now, prepare your heads for this second-hand rush.


Trade and Lore

I purposefully chose to kick off with Trade and Lore because the name and photos from Google Maps were extremely intimidating to me. It seemed like the type of place that looks at you like you have 14 heads and they’re so bored of seeing people with 14 heads so kindly stop breathing their air and go sit in the corner uncomfortably until your coffee is ready, but not announced, so it’s actually been sitting at the counter for a few minutes and was mistakenly picked up then put back down by two other customers before you apprehensively stood up and went to go get it. You know what I’m talking about? Good, because Trade and Lore is nothing like that type of place.

Trade and Lore is upstairs above a NoDa Brewery, Salud, and the space feels exactly like that. It actually went so far as to remind me of some of my favorite spots in New York City. Except instead of astral ambient electro synth, they were playing some tracks in the stride of ‘All Because of You’ by Rise Against. My new preferred way to kick off 8am. The entrance was a little tricky to find so I ended up walking around the block (a fault entirely of my own, I can confirm that there was in fact signage) before climbing to the top of some cool looking stairs that led into a cool looking second floor which I guess I’d describe as a really, really cool looking den? When I thought the thought that I was glad it felt hidden and protected and wasn’t a more obvious in-your-face glass storefront, I realized that I was becoming too annoying for my own good.

I give this coffee a rage against that espresso machine out of 10.

Basal Coffee

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I’m obsessed with the floors here. Also pretty much everything else about here. Confession: never knew this place existed. Never knew it was even about to exist, but allow me to introduce you to yet another fault entirely and all the way of my own. Basal Coffee opened back in March of this year, further emphasizing my point that the Queen City coffee scene is positively blooming (that… are you having that??). The biggest difference I noticed was that where other spots have waited until 100% to open their doors to the community, Basal opened with the minimalist necessities and so many exciting growth plans to share with their customers. I know this because the owner happened to be behind the counter while I was there and gave me a very passionate summary of what’s to come (Block parties! Coffee block parties! Do you hear the people sing?). It’s really cool that our community is going to get to go through this journey alongside the employees and owners of Basal. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn something about opening a place like this of my own some day (Hopes? Dreams? Is that you? How are the children?).

My Colombia pour over (pourover? pour-over? Pour Over? poor over!) was a presentation and a half. Coffee is taken seriously here. Not pretentious seriously, but you can tell that they love it like one of the family. People were coming in all morning describing the tastes and styles that they were looking for and the guys behind the bar weren’t disappointing. I must find out exactly what type of Colombian coffee this was because it was delicious.

I give this coffee a best pour over I’ve ever had in my quarter century of a life no seriously I’m equal parts floored and amazed and also stunned but mostly thankful out of 10.

Not Just Coffee

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Quite a few of my young millennial friends have social-media’d about this place and a new Charlotte city limits location seems to appear every other month so I figured it was time for me to jump on in. The Not Just Coffee spot in Atherton Mill was fine. It wasn’t exactly my scene, if I’m being entirely honest. It is literally situated in the middle open space corridor of a modernized mill. My personal feeling is that a little more greenery could have enhanced the space to feel less pop-up industrial but I think that might actually be what they’re going for here?

Unfortunately my no to-go cups rule was broken at NJC but it didn’t seem like they had any of the capabilities to deal with dishes so I get it. It also didn’t seem like anyone was coming here for that? Of the short time I spent sitting and watching, most of the people cycling through were intentionally picking up something to leave with or they were bringing in their lunches and getting a cup of coffee to go with it, then back out and on with their lives. Given its growth, Not Just Coffee is clearly great for the citizens of Charlotte, but it’s just not the coffee for Cass.

I give this coffee a paper cups for paper people out of 10.

Queen City Grounds

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Absolutely without a doubt couldn’t leave Queen City Grounds off the crawl, could I? Again, I judged by Google Maps images. I searched coffee, this place popped up, and I audibly groaned because I wanted to stay out of Uptown and, to be honest, it didn’t look super inviting from the photos. Let me say, completely different impression when I walked through the doors. Energy levels were great for an early afternoon. People were sitting and chatting or working away on laptops. Hanging plants! Off of an open loft area! Now we’re talking, this was a vibe.

On the way here I had to make a stop for french fries as a last-ditch effort to build up a liner because at this point the caffeine on the empty stomach was really starting to buzz directly to the tips of all ten fingers. I know, I’m dumb, I know. We’ll speak about that later. I went for a Guatemalan drip brew by the name of Finca Los Chorros. No idea what that means but it was really good. At this point I was really devolving into preserving the integrity of the crawl and not so much focusing on enjoying what I was drinking. When I ordered, the barista behind the counter was super energetic and friendly which made a lot of sense for someone working in a roastery surrounded by coffee shakes, rattles, and rolls all day. A few short minutes into sipping on this, the foot tapping had begun.

I give this coffee an I imagine this is what lightly smoldered firewood tastes like and I’m super into it apparently? out of 10.

Central Coffee Company

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My neighborhood favorite. Had to add Central Coffee Company even though it’s not a new find like the others on this crawl, mostly because I wanted it as a control group. Really didn’t need it, but wanted it. By the time I got here, it began to feel as if all of the coffee in my system had made itself a body-sized reservoir in between the epidermis and hypodermis layers of my skin. A jitter that hadn’t quite taken over my body yet but was definitely enough to make me feel extremely… weird. Ever feel like that? No? Huh.

I love coming to Central in South End first thing in the morning because it’s extremely well-positioned for natural sunlight in the early AM. I bring my tree encyclopedia to veg out for a bit with a to-here, then pick up a to-go for the trek (read: barely half-mile stroll) home to start the rest of my day. Central also has the best weekend hours of any coffee place in Charlotte. Fact. On this trip I tried a Papua New Guinea Kange brew, but there is one particular light roast that I’ve had here a handful of times and it’s the best light roast I’ve ever experienced and it kills me that I don’t know what it is. The flavor profile (if that is its real name) reminds me of crispy birch bark with a hint of toasted marshmallows (don’t ask). I’ll never be able to make it at home though because, fun fact alert, I am terribly horrible at making coffee myself. Seriously. Can’t work out the “mathematics” of it. And people have tried to help. Save yourselves.

I give this coffee a central to my mental and emotional comfort company out of 10.

Undercurrent Coffee

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When I was living in the Plaza Midwood area, I used to drive by this place and anxiously await the day when the “Coming Soon!” signs would be replaced by “Now Open!” signs. Undercurrent Coffee reminds me of exactly what it is: a house that was converted into a coffee shop. It’s refreshing to be in a place that offers multiple brew styles to their customers sans pretension and judgement. I don’t know where it is that hurt me to expect that type of vibe from every coffee place I go into now, but I’m delighted that the Queen City has wrecking-balled that into a very friendly and welcoming dust of nothing.

The ladies and man behind the counter here are phenomenal. They honestly make the place. They make it feel like Undercurrent actually wants you to learn how to appreciate coffee. It doesn’t expect you to walk in the door as a master roaster with a world class palate. They’ll help you figure out what you want (they quite literally offer classes) and “I think I like things that are light and woodsy and kind of taste like caramel” was sufficient for them to make a recommendation and for all of us to move on with our day. Related to vibes, the man and woman sitting next to me were practicing tarot while I worked on writing this – making me feel right at witchy home. The playlist was set to a roll of the “rock and” persuasion but at one point the Kate Bush classic “Wuthering Heights” came on… I just about internally strangled myself to prevent a cry laughing scene. Do yourself all the favors and watch that music video.

I give this coffee a HEATHCLIFF out of 10.


As with the cake crawl… I did not feel great at the end of this! Shocking!

In fact, I sincerely discourage anyone from trying this if you’re not extremely in touch with your caffeine intake limits. Seriously, for health and safety and well-being purposes do not do this. On a normal day I usually drink anywhere from 2 to 4 disturbingly large coffees so I figured I could handle 6 small ones but I was duped, my friends! Firstly because hardly anyone served me in sizes that I would describe as anything other than full. Out went the “small only” rule.

Secondly because it was a lot of caffeine in not a lot of time. This whole crawl took me around seven hours to complete. When I reached the last few stops, I was able to recognize the signs that enough was enough. In fact, I even went so far as to fear caffeine overdose because I’m the Queen of Internet Diagnoses. In all seriousness, the mild chest pain and twitchy shoulders insisted that I not finish the last few sips of some cups. I love coffee, I do, but I love it because I enjoy it. At the end of the day, this started becoming very not enjoyable.

I’m an idiot, I know, but as Eddie Vedder once said, I’m still alive.

Voyages: New York City [@NYNY]

Remember when my Voyages used to feature little-to-no words? Yeah, me neither.

Work commitments recently packed me up and sent me off to the Big Apple for a week. New York City isn’t my favorite place on earth, but I knew that I’d have some time to kill so I wanted to make the best of it. First and foremost, that meant visiting some old haunts from when I lived there in college for a few months. Beyond that, I did some research (mostly by asking others to do some for me) and gleaned a few new spots to try.

Even though the song itself alludes to San Francisco, visiting New York City always makes me think of Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Piazza, New York Catcher.’ While there, I did in fact drink myself awake but did not get eloped… though I can’t safely say that I would have turned down the offer if it were presented in a coffee house awarded certificates. Okay… I’ll stop.

What I’m trying to say is that the theme of this here adventure is pretty much brews, books, and… well, other brews. Presented in the hybrid form of a Voyage and a Travel, these are my excursions. Enjoy.


SUNDAY

The Whitney

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It was very difficult for me to forego the American Museum of Natural History on this trip, but alas, it would not be a true Voyage without something new (feeling old and blue). The Whitney has been on my mind for a few months now for no other reason than the Edward Hopper collection. I’ll save the lengthy anecdote and fast-forward to the part where I copied (“interpreted”) his work for every single high school art class artist study project. I’ve only ever seen images of the art, so I was shocked to find that the originals are actually HUGE. Totally changed my perspective.

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Tears were shed over the fact that I could get this close to Edward’s ACTUAL HANDWRITING. (Anyone else think that’s extremely cool???) Even though I came for the Hoppers, I stayed for the Calder: Hypermobility exhibit. Legend has it that Calder created the mobile. In the 1930s. Allow me to pause and check if anyone else is as shocked by that fact as I was (and still am)? I had always assumed mobiles were like fire… created long, long ago by an unknown sapien and now just a basic foundational staple of humanity. Turns out, no. Fairly recent invention.

Quick aside, this Calder exhibit had scheduled ‘activations’ of the art, which in short consisted of a man in a lab coat poking things with a very large stick. But only certain things, which is why my strategy was to linger towards the last piece he was going to poke so I could avoid the large crowd gathered around the first one and get a good look when the last one’s turn came around. As I stood waiting, unsuspecting of yet another mindblowing experience, a man and his daughter approached to view some of the other pieces beside the one I was standing near. Subconsciously, I began to tune into them. “Yeah, we all had these when we were kids.” The man was flippant as he drew in a deep breath. My subconscious couldn’t help itself and gave way to full conscious. My gaze flickered over just in time to watch as the man leaned forward and started huffing at the art, which sure enough slowly started to move. This unauthorized activation occurred in the span of less than minute, whereas most other people in the room had been waiting for upwards of twenty. And while I don’t encourage this sort of rule breaking I suppose I can’t help but condone it. I should have known that an art museum is where I’d find the people who don’t play by the rules. My curiosity at what an ‘activation’ looked like was satiated. I didn’t even bother to stick around for the guy with one after seeing that.

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Strand

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Shockingly enough, this was my first time visiting Strand. I’m sure none of you underestimate my bibliove because of that, but I’ll admit that it felt like a rite of passage to visit this coveted NYC bookstore. It was just as overwhelming as I had anticipated. Spent the majority of my time in the rare books room, laughed at some witty magnets, purchased some new reads, and carried on with my life, bitter that I don’t get to be an employee here.

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The Dead Poet

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One of the first times I ever came to this bar, my best friend and I ended up getting into some kind of heated discussion which spanned multiple actual hours and myriad actual beers. I will be the first to admit that I do not recall any detail of said discussion, other than that I talked a lot, walked out of the bar arm-in-arm with best friend at the end of the night, and wore Budweiser stickers under each of my eyes a la eye black.

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In my humble and inexperienced opinion, The Dead Poet is the best bar in New York City. It’s my comfort zone, the place I feel I’ve never left no matter how long I’ve been away. I didn’t make friends easily when I lived in the city, but boy did that never matter less than when I walked into this place. Suffice it to say, the remainder of my Sunday evening was passed here, curled up with a book and many a pint of the black stuff.

Monday

Citizen’s of Chelsea

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Previously the home of Pushcart Coffee (which I believe they still technically serve here? but it’s technically Unity coffee? either way it’s delicious?), this used to be my Sunday morning city spot. I’d pick up a copy of the NYT, tuck myself into the corner of the bar with a cold brew and a peach pistachio muffin, and see how many ridiculous yet fitting (in all senses) answers I could come up with for the Sunday crossword. The biggest redesign in the new space is the plant-lined bar and kitchen area. Extremely rad. Kicking off those Monday vibes, I pushed myself to try the raspberry chia bowl… then immediately regretted not opting for the waffle instead.

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Also, apparently they serve hot apple cider here. ALL. YEAR. !!!.

The Headless Horseman

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This place confirmed that part of my aesthetic is in fact late-18th century in nature. Dark, dungeony, and filled with people much cooler than myself. My intention was to come by for a drink, so I pulled out my book to accompany my bourbon, got teased for reading by candlelight, and met some very interesting people representing Games for Change.

Lillie’s Victorian Establishment

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Another part of my aesthetic? Victorian. Lillie’s was a little too hip for my comfort, but there was an old man named Brian sitting next to me (or rather, that I was sitting next to given everyone knew him by name… clearly he’s a staple) and I like to imagine that he’s the owner, or the son of the owner, or somehow personally connected to this place via the good old days of yore. My fondest memory of Lillie’s is that at one point I swear I overheard the bartender say to a server “herein lies the ruckus” before going to town with a cocktail shaker full of liquids and ice. I swear. Then again, maybe I was just projecting.

Tuesday

Tompkins Square Bagels

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Let me just level set here… I don’t really care about bagels. I’m personally pretty indifferent to flavors (which is probably why I always opt for the plain variety), I don’t even really like cream cheese, and I’ll fare just fine if the toaster is broken. This particular East Village bagel spot came recommended as “pretty good” and I can confirm, pretty good it was. The bagel, for all intents and purposes, was fine but the playlist was on fire. Tears for Fears, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Phil Collins… my people. That’s the way you want to start a Tuesday.

The Supply House

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Never spent much time on the Upper East side of Manhattan before, so on Tuesday evening I decided to stop in and try this place. The beer menu was great (drained a Montauk Driftwood Ale in mach speed thanks to the irregular city heat), the food menu was great, and the overall vibe was great. The hostess sat me beside the massive open window, so I carried on reading my book and living my life for a while. Have I mentioned said book yet? No? Well, this here Lady in New York was accompanied by “A Gentleman in Moscow” throughout her adventures. Highly recommend, Towles is a splendor.

After grabbing a quick bite, I set my sights on a stroll across Central Park from Upper East to Upper West for a nightcap at… you guessed it, The Dead Poet. This also allowed for the triumphant return of the NYC phone calls I used to bestow upon my best friend where I talked absolute nonsense for at least an hour. This time around: I declared I was going to apply for a grant to become a squirrel translator in the park.

Cafe Lalo

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A sweet tooth is meant to be indomitable and there is no such thing as too late for coffee. With these philosophies in mind, I ventured over to Cafe Lalo after finishing my last drink at The Dead Poet. I should have gotten a key pal first so that I could have been stood up, and therefore continued on my quest to live life like 1990s Meg Ryan would, but alas. Hindsight.

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While “You’ve Got Mail” is truly iconic, Cafe Lalo isn’t all that great. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have every intention of returning with a rose tucked into my “Pride and Prejudice,” anxious eyes on the door… Told you I would have eloped.

Wednesday

Third Rail Coffee

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Wednesday left me a little more pressed for morning exploration time, so I needed something I could grab and go with. That something was the age old classic: coffee and a doughnut. Stopped into Third Rail right at opening for a coffee so hot and fresh that I think my fingerprints have permanently been burned off (even now, weeks later, as I edit this, they feel remiss). Couldn’t resist adding a vanilla bean doughnut (apparently from Doughnut Plant, which is apparently notable). Let me tell you, this combo really carried me through that 8am call. Very rad vibe here (can you tell I’m in a “rad” phase?). 10 out of 10 would return.

(Also, stopped by a spot in the Times Square area called Cafe Grumpy with my team after said 8am call – tried the Ombre and would suggest not ordering it when you have to go back to work because you’ll end up spending a solid hour and a half wishing you were enjoying it outside.)

(Also, also, not pictured – Wednesday evening was spent with coworkers at Houston Hall and then a little underground bar called The Folly… let’s just say Thursday morning wasn’t much made for adventuring after that.)


And there we have it folks. A summary of… well, basically just brews and brews, with a dash of activities thrown in on a Sunday afternoon for good measure. Highly recommend trying a spot of two of these next time you find yourself in New York, New York. Don’t bother letting me know if you happen to be in vicious disagreement with anything I thought about them.

Voyages: Into Twilight [@ForksWA]

About three things I was absolutely positive. And “I love Forks” was every single one of them.

I lied to you all, this is the real reason I went out west to Seattle country – because Seattle is very close to the small town of Forks, Washington. Otherwise known as the town in which The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer is based. Even if you’re not into the series, there are some beautiful photos of the Olympicly Peninsular landscape for you to scroll through. However, I absolutely adore the series so… I’m kinda hoping that some of you do too.

On Sunday, my best friend and I rented a car, woke up early, and took a little Twilight-themed day trip out away from the Emerald City. May or may not have returned as members of a different species.


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After sufficiently caffeinating in the earlier hours of the morning, we hit the road to the tune of “This Is Halloween” followed by the Ghostbusters theme song.

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I literally could not resist howling out the window in hopes that all nearby werewolves would come run alongside the car under cover of the massively impressive thick trees. Our entire trip was spent winding in and out and around the Olympic National Park. Did I mention massively impressive trees? One more time for good measure? They were massively impressive.

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As we drew closer to the town limits we switched the playlist over from general Halloween to the soundtracks from the Twilight Saga movies. I just about lost my mind when we spotted the first road sign.

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The iconic sign! Missing the 3,120 population count, but I’m assuming that’s because it’s grown ever so slightly since 2008.

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The Forks Chamber of Commerce/Welcome Center was our first stop, where we picked up a town map and some other fun little bits and pieces. The woman who helped us out was supremely nice and I’ve decided that if ever there was a dream job, it would be me sitting on the porch of the Forks Chamber of Commerce in a rocking chair, talking about this Saga with anyone and everyone who will listen to me. While cross-stitching “Team Jasper” pillows.

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Foreground truck: Bella’s from the movie. Background truck: Bella’s from the books.

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The Swan Residence, which happens to be up for sale (I don’t blame them even in the slightest). Seriously considering putting in a bid, who wants to join?

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Very familiar with this sign. We circled the perimeter in search of some picnic tables to perch ourselves on but they were sadly absent from the property.

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A local inn had offered up their digs as the official Cullen House. A giant beautiful tree was out front and right next door you could see the Forks Police Station with plenty of cruisers a la Charlie’s.

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Rad rad rad rad rad! This was a super cool spot. About a 25 minute drive from Forks – La Push actually is an existing Reservation and actually does have quite a few beaches (which a lot of people were taking advantage of). Pretty sure those cliffs off in the distance were the ones Bella would have jumped off of, as they’re land accessible. Facts, that’s what you’re here for people.

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A best friend, spotted roaming in the wild! This is my road trip, life companion Robin!! We spent a lot of time looking for cool pebbles on this beach. And yes, I did bring one home with me.

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As Robin so truthfully put, the driftwood collected at the edge of First Beach looked eerily similar to the Elephant Graveyard in The Lion King. Very fun to climb over and play on, though.

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Queen of Fashion, you can call me. I channeled my inner Eric all day long and Robin had to ask me more than once to stop saying “La Push, baby… it’s La Push.” Didn’t stop, though. And this snapchat was what came of it.

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Very pretty ocean and rocks and everything, all the things.

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Can’t stop won’t stop with my window pictures. Won’t stop. This was a lake somewhere in the middle of the Olympic Peninsula that we had the extreme fortune of getting to drive along the perimeter of on our way to Port Angeles. Don’t be lazy, Cassie. Look up the lake for your loyal readers… Lake Crescent, of course it was Lake Crescent.

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I wish we got to spend more time in Port Angeles, but Seattle is quite the drive away and as it was we were pushing the later hours for our return journey when we got there. Our final stop on our Tour de Twilight was to indulge in the same Italian restaurant Edward and Bella went to on their first date!

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I’m not even a fan of ravioli but I couldn’t come all the way here and skip ordering it! If you don’t understand why, how did you even make it this far through this post? The mushrooms were delicious and Robin, the kind wonderful best friend soul that she is, even ordered a second Coke so she could slide it across the table to me. Again, true fans only, please. After filling up on delicious carbs, we hit the road for our return to Seattle.


And that just about wraps up my first ever West Coast adventure weekend! Going to Forks was an honest to goodness dream come true. Going with a best friend who completely understands when you burst into tears at lunch over how every character in The Twilight Saga was fated together is even better.

As always, thanks for reading! Oh, and…

Be safe.

Voyages: The Emerald City [@SeattleWA]

Baby’s first trip out West! That’s right. Until this year, the furthest west I had ever been in my life was probably Pennsylvania. But my best friend (the one who went to New Orleans with me) recently moved out to Seattle to start her real life grown-up… life. And naturally I had to get out there to visit.

Most of my trip was in the spirit of spending time with her, so we got out and saw quite a bit of the city but this is in no way meant to be a “Weekender’s Guide to Seattle.” It’s just the things we’ve been talking about wanting to see and some pictures of what came from seeing them together.

For those of you interested in going soon, I will say that we experienced some delicious eats in the Capitol Hill area. Notably a fall-themed lunch at Americana, a tex-mex brunch at Rooster’s, and the fineries of Italian wine and 1,000 degree-cooked pizza at Via Tribunali. So, go crazy. And bring me back some Mexi-migas. There, you’ve got your “guide” element – are you happy???

Scroll on to see a Seattle Saturday at its finest.


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First stop, the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. I had my sights set on visiting this place since its opening was announced almost 2 whole years ago. The Reserve features rare, small-batch roasted coffees which you can find in most stores but this particular spot is really the mothership of the whole operation.

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So chic, so sophisticated, so absolutely packed on a Saturday morning. The roastery featured a few different places to try out the elite coffee offerings but we went for the main stage, if you will, right smack in the middle. The whole aesthetic of the place is everything that I aspire to be.

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THE MOMENT I HAD ESPECIALLY BEEN WAITING FOR. Starbucks recently announced the launch of their Nitro Cold Brew and allow me to tell you the story of when I first heard about it. I was sitting on my couch, reading through Twitter, and happened upon the aforementioned announcement. “Nitro?” I thought to myself. “As in Nitrogen? As in brewed with Nitrogen? As in BREWED LIKE GUINNESS???” Yes, Cassie from the past. Yes, exactly like that. When I discovered it was being released in select cities, not including the one I just moved to, my heart was aching and breaking all over the place. But we made it, folks. We made it and we loved every single ice cold delicious sip of it.

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A stroll down Pike Street brought us to our next stop: the iconic Pike Place Market.

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Also crazily busy, as to be expected. A sensory overload happened between the flowers and the food and the people and the lights and and and. It broke me a little bit, it truly did.

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Never have I seen such delicious looking fruits and veggies. Also, we got to sample some dark chocolate spaghetti which is a very interesting concept. The locals must have this place down to a science, cause I can tell you that if I lived there it would definitely be a frequent shopping center.

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Am I forthcoming enough with my personal interests? After the Reserve experience, we still weren’t done with our Starbucks fix. We went to visit the one and only original location at 1912 Pike Place. Kind of, sort of, the original location… the first “store” was actually at 2000 Western Avenue but that was back in the early 1970s when they functioned as more of a roastery than a brewery so you could only really buy whole coffee beans and maybe get a sample or two to drink.

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I love a good Siren! We waited in line for a bit but it was worth it to pick up some commemorative mugs with the original branding and the best frappuccino I’ve ever had.

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After Pike Place, we hopped on the monorail out to see the Space Needle! Iconic! We admired from the ground as we knew we’d need quite a bit of time inside of our next stop: the EMP Museum.

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The entire EMP building is super cool and futuristic and architecturally amazing. There are a ton of amazing pop-culture exhibits that currently include pieces from genres like Fantasy, Horror, and SciFi and Seattle music icons like Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.

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The Lure of Horror Film exhibit had a whole wall of archetypes (I would call them that but not sure if that’s the legitimate name for it). Each little board featured explanations and examples. Take a wild guess what my favorite one was…

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And our final stop. The one that we spent the majority of our time going through. The one that brought us here in the first place. The piece de resistance. The Cassie Tears-a-palooza. The Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibit.

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The exhibit featured props and costumes and set designs from all facets of the Star Trek lifecycle. My favorite piece was this concept art for the USS Enterprise. The OG ship design. I’m getting chills just looking at this again.

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Words cannot describe the impact that Leonard Nimoy and his portrayal of Spock has made on me and my life. I thought pretty much everything was going to make me cry in this exhibit, but it was the Vulcans that hit me the hardest. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day spent seeing this magical city.


I hope you enjoyed this little snippet of my first ever West Coasterly voyage! I’ve got a little something else coming up next week, but until then join me in daydreaming about the next time I’ll get to go back over to play in The Emerald City. There was so much left unseen but I’m confident it won’t stay that way for long.

Live long and prosper.

Voyages: Hickory & Blowing Rock [@NorthCarolina]

Last weekend I had a hankering to get away from the city. My usual preference would be to go to the ocean but that trip is more of a commitment down here so the second best choice was to get up into the mountains.

Are you ready for the tale of another hysterical attempt at my navigating myself sans GPS? Good, because I’ve shown up to tell it. Like the journey up to Kancamagus, I wanted to try my hand at navigating this one with only a general idea of where I was going – a reliance on road signs, if you will. The excitement of that only lasted about an hour until I decided to take a quick peak at my Google Maps location to make sure I was on the right track. Yeah, sure, the road looked right, but the direction looked oh so wrong. For a second I had myself a bit of a panic over the idea of spending the day in South Carolina instead of the Appalachians, but much like my destination, that blew over once I figured out my phone was showing me the map flipped upside-down.

Deep breath, hearty laugh, and away I went.


Hickory, NC

First stop. The town was absolutely Saturday morning silent when I arrived. It took a few drives around the block to orient myself, but once I found a parking space I hopped out of the car on a mission for good coffee. Don’t ask me how the “city” of Hickory made it onto my list of North Carolina locals in the first place, it just did. And the only real research I did on it was for coffee shops so here we are.

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Taste Full Beans is clearly the spot in Hickory. A hugely expansive menu greeted me from the back wall and the baked goods arranged along the counter drew me closer, but I had my eyes on the prize: the two wonderfully friendly young women who I knew were my gateway to the good stuff. They laughed as I confided that the menu overwhelmed me and all I wanted was the largest cup of coffee they were legally allowed to give me. A small selection of options lined the counter to the right and I went with a blend called “Dark Bliss.” If you know me at all, I shouldn’t have to explain why.

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As I settled in to a comfy chair-coffee table-couch setup, my tunnel vision now dissolved thanks to the achievement of my coffee getting goal, I took a look around. The best part of local cafes is the local culture support. Art available for purchase lined every wall, fliers were at the counter or on the tables with information about more goings-on, and one man was even chatting with the women behind the counter about some local theater productions. This is my favorite part of small towns! I desperately wished I could have become a more habitual customer, but I’ll settle for making Taste Full my passing through Hickory haunt.

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As I continued to drain my super large cup of coffee in record time, I noticed the magazines stacked on the coffee table in front of me. A dozen issues of Rolling Stone and a Wall Street Journal magazine with Meryl Streep on the cover. My visit was starting to feel eerily fated.

Another note on the general vibe of this place. The setup to my note is that playlists are huge to me, and that goes for pretty much any place I go. A restaurant, a cafe, a clothing store, anywhere. A good playlist gives me validation that I’m actually supposed to be there, that I made a good choice. So my note about Taste Full’s music comes in two parts: an excellent Fields of Gold cover and the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. Game over.

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Caffeinated and satiated, I trekked back around the corner to my car to continue on my voyage North-Westerly. Right across the street from my parking spot was this attractively aesthetic Carolina Theater which I didn’t even notice upon arrival! Thankful I did before departure because look how freaking pretty!

Blowing Rock, NC

Next stop was Blowing Rock and again, do not ask me how I got it in my head to visit this place. I just did, okay?

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Since Blowing Rock is more situated on the edge of the mountains, the scenic route happens pretty quickly. The highway starts to wind you upwards and suddenly the roads are narrowing (partly from construction, partly from actual nature). Then all of a sudden you round a corner and a huge sign pops up pointing you in the direction of the town-namesake: THE Blowing Rock.

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The legend of this location is 80% of what drew me to it in the first place. I’m a sucker for romantic history, especially when it includes a little bit of fantastic occurrences. The other 20%? The temperature cool down. It was mid-70s when I arrived at high noon. A wonderfully pleasant experience compared to the high-90s I left behind.

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The Blowing Rock itself was quite literally just a big slab of rock jutting out from the side of the mountain. I climbed up to the top pretty confidently but the wind made me immediately sit right the heck down for fear of getting pushed over the edge.

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It was indescribably cool to look out and imagine a young woman probably younger than myself sitting in the exact same place before the mountains and valleys below, spotting the love of her life wandering the wilderness. Too sappy? Okay, I’ll rugged it up a little bit. Imagine how good of a shot she must have been to make her arrow navigate the wind and get close enough to attract the attention of that guy.

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In all honesty, I could have sat up there in the breeze of the mountains all day. The fresh air felt so good and the scene before me so relaxing. Unfortunately it was time to get back on the road, but I made a vow to come back and visit the mountains again soon.

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Believe me when I say that I’ve got a list a mile long of places to go and things to do in North Carolina, but please do let me know any recommendations of yours! I’m gonna have to get to know this state at some point or another and I might as well start with the good stuff.

Voyages: The French Quarter [@NewOrleansLA]

A warning that this post is longer than my Voyage posts typically are but that’s because so much happened! And so many pictures were taken! And I want to share all of that with you! So let’s get through a quick preface before you get to the good stuff.

This was an adventure literally 5 years in the making. Since we met, my best friend Robin and I have been wanting to go down to New Orleans, Louisiana. Last weekend we finally made the jump and road tripped from my newfound home in North Carolina to spend a few days in the French Quarter. 10+ hours, each way. 700+ miles, each way. Too many mixed CDs to actually count, each way. And quite a lot of new experiences in between. Enjoy!


THURSDAY

We left as early as the two of us could conceivably manage on Thursday morning and landed down in New Orleans around 7pm, after a very comical scene about an hour out which featured Robin and I running from giant killer wasps at a gas station in Mississippi while also trying to check mystery tire pressure levels. Let’s just say it was an unpleasant experience and it culminated in us deciding to push on in hope that the tiny little dashboard light would cut us some slack. It did.

After checking in at the French Market Inn, which is a beautiful little inn right on the edge of the river side of the French Quarter (I’m assuming that you could have assumed that from the name but I wanted to be really thorough with you, dear reader), we hit the streets! Mostly tired but also a little hungry, we went for a walk around our immediate surroundings in search of sustenance and happened to catch some cool sights as the sun was going down.

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I have a real love for wrought iron and the gates lining Jackson Square a few blocks down from where we were staying happened to play right into that!

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Stay tuned for a lot of pictures of porches, another architectural soft spot of mine. This particular one seemed oh so beautiful in contrast to the massive law-oriented, courthouse-type building behind it.

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And another view of Jackson Square (that brass man hanging out on his brass horse is none other than Andrew Jackson himself, go figure) and the St. Louis Cathedral at sunset.

After many shuffle, stop, read the menu, shuffle on, repeat scenarios we finally settled on grabbing a quick bite at Pierre Maspero’s. Despite having grown up on an island, I’m not the biggest fan of seafood, so I was a little hesitant about food options down in New Orleans. However, I’ve also recently become more ambitious in trying new foods so I was motivated to really give the southern creole cuisine a shot. As long as french fries were also on the menu.

That being said, Robin and I ordered a Crescent City Sampler to split, comprised of Cajun Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffée, and Chicken & Andouille Gumbo. We wanted to try all of these things throughout the weekend and now we could knock them all out in one go so it was perfect! I highly recommend this game plan if you’re like me and had never tried this kind of cuisine before because it was a huge help to figure out what I could actually handle without having to waste a whole entrée sized portion. For example the Etouffée was definitely not for me, but I couldn’t get enough of the Jambalaya. Also tried: fried green tomatoes (yum!) and sweet potato stout (wish it had been just normal potato stout but also, yum!).

FRIDAY

After using the night before to plan out all of the things we wanted to do, Friday became a pretty big day for us. As soon as we woke up and got ourselves dressed for the day, we set out in fear of thunderstorms and stopped for cheesy tourist ponchos before heading across the street to try another New Orleans famed dish: beignets! Pronounced “ben-yays,” not bayg-nets… you’re in the French Quarter, people! C’mon!

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The very touristy spot to try beignets, but obviously a must for first-timers like myself. I’m sure there are other cute cafes to enjoy the deliciously New Orleans fried dough treat, so let me know if you know of any!

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As the skies opened up on us, the outdoor (but sheltered from the downpour) terrace area of Cafe Du Monde became extremely crowded. The rain was a nice little cool down, but still not cool enough for us to order hot coffees with our breakfast.

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Robin and I made the mistake of thinking that we each needed an order of beignets. Trust me, we didn’t. They’re a sweet treat but they’re also super thick dough so they can really fill you up quickly. We also went with the iced cafe au laits, which if you’re used to black coffee like me I do not recommend. In case you didn’t know, lait means milk in French and in New Orleans it means a lot of it.

After finishing up our breakfast we went back across the street to visit the St. Louis Cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in North America! According to a woman who worked inside, the artwork on the ceiling was a major part of historians being able to date the construction of the Cathedral way back to the late 1700s/early 1800s. This place has seen some tragedy, so I recommend taking a look through the history if you’re interested. It was absolutely beautiful to meander through.

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We sat for a moment of quiet contemplation and then got back to business: unknowingly making our trips religiously oriented historical escapades, we decided to go visit the Old Ursuline Convent next.

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The place was absolutely massive and we only wandered the ground floor, which is open to the public. The general grounds and gardens were also beautiful and we spent a few moments sitting under the shade of a large tree out back before continuing with our day. Remember this convent, remember all this cheery sunshine, because it’s going to come back in a few paragraphs…

Leaving the convent, we walked the eastern residential streets of the French Quarter to gaze upon some beautifully colored New Orleans-style homes. So many porches!

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Bourbon Street! In the day time, from the residential end.

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Back Garden goals, amirite?

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As we made our way towards the Wax Museum, our next planned destination, we became increasingly aware of the rapidly approaching (and quite threatening looking) grey clouds trailing behind us. Unfortunately, the Wax Museum was closed! And sure enough little tiny drops of rain started to fall faster and faster as we figured that out. Robin looked up the closest cafe, where we could sit and form a game plan, and so we ended up at Cafe Conti.

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I was lucky enough to get the last of the Strawberry Basil Lemonade and it was… wordlessly good. Can’t wait to try making that at home.

After a little more adventuring around the riverbanks and a quick stop at the hotel, we were on to the evening phase of our day. The calm before the Ghost & Vampire walking tour!

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Look at the size of that bird! He did not appreciate my picture taking.

We arrived a little early and decided to stroll through Louis Armstrong Park across the street for a few minutes. A super cool location with all sorts of fun bridges and structures and art work to admire, all in tribute to the jazz culture of New Orleans.

As the clock struck 7pm, we crossed back over to the Voodoo Lounge – the walking tour meeting spot. We were still early so we took advantage of the two-for-one Hurricane deal and parked ourselves at the bar. Let me say this, I freaking love this place. I honestly could have moved to New Orleans just so I could become a regular at this particular dive bar (and yes, they self identify as a dive bar on their Facebook page). While we were there, we listened to an awesome playlist (featuring ditties like ‘Lips Like Sugar’ by Echo & The Bunnymen and ‘White Lies’ by Max Frost) and learned that the bearded bartending fella, Houla, has a pretty good movie and book stash going on. ‘City of Lost Children’ was on the screen (with a few other creepy scaries stacked up behind the counter) and a handful of enticingly titled books lined the window behind us. As Robin and I flipped through the book on interesting facts and myths, Houla told us that he used to have a comprehensive Vampire lore book… but it got stolen… and I then proceeded to get very upset.

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The Voodoo Lounge

It was time for the tour to start so we carted our drinks out to meet our guide Ducky on the pavement. We booked our walking tours with a company called French Quarter Phantoms and I am telling you right now: they were so fun. If you’re interested in cool creepy walking tours with amazing guides, definitely book with this place. Hanging out in the Voodoo Lounge was enough to set me off on the right foot but Ducky knocked the experience up a few pegs and well, we just had a really great time!

I won’t spoil any of the stories but I will tell you that I was inducted into the Undead Society (and am patiently awaiting my official cape and laminated membership card) and Robin and I discovered that that Ursuline Convent we walked around earlier in the day? Yeah, big spot for New Orleans Vampire lore.

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Creepiest thing about this photo is that I can’t actually remember whether or not there really were people on that porch while we were standing under it…

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See that hoard of people walking towards the building on the right? Yeah, notice how I was not one of them. Allegedly all sorts of crazy creepy things have happened to people in and around this building (American Horror Story Coven, anyone? Delphine LaLaurie… enough said) so Robin and I weren’t taking any chances. The weird light streak that later showed up on this photo proved we had the right idea.

And then we went to Bourbon Street! And returned home to sleep with the light on and music playing all night long because we were afraid of all the stories we heard on our Ghost & Vampire tour. Two grown girls, very much decided on the fact that they were probably going to be hunted out by vampires in the night.

SATURDAY

Well, turns out we weren’t.

And the big event of our Saturday can be described in two words: cemetery tour.

But first, breakfast. We decided to go back to Cafe Conti because when we had ducked in to avoid the rain we perused the menu and the crêpe selection really caught our eyes. Definitely worth it; the coffee was fantastic and the food was exactly what we needed to carb up for the day ahead. By the time we finished we had a little bit of time left before the cemetery tour we booked so we went back to Louis Armstrong Park to relax and chat for a while.

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I freaking love cool trees. This one happened to have what looked like a ton of mini trees growing on top of the bowed branch. As I took out my camera I said “I’m gonna take a picture of that tree” and without missing a beat Robin said “I know you are.” Because I love cool trees. And I make that very evident.

We chose to book our cemetery tour with French Quarter Phantoms again because, like I said, they were so good! These guys really are expert story tellers and what’s more, you actually get the feeling that they really enjoy their jobs. This time around we were matched up with Robert, though Ducky also noticed us from the night before and said hello! Pro-tip: do the Ghost & Vampire tour at the latest available time slot and the cemetery tour at the earliest. I’m talking about heat comfort here, people.

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Robert explaining the style of New Orleans cemeteries to us: as you can see the tombs are above ground and come in many different designs. Highly recommend looking up this style of burial because it is absolutely nuts. It’s like a burial-cremation combo. The general guesstimate is around 100,000 people lying at rest in this small cemetery alone.

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St. Louis Cemetery #1 happens to be home to a lot of cool people spanning all periods of history: Homer Plessy (from Plessy vs. Ferguson), Marie Laveau (the Voodoo Queen, allegedly but not confirmed buried here), the future dead Nicholas Cage (you know who I’m talking about), and a bunch of other really interesting people. One of my favorite tombs, not pictured, was the one with the blue jazz note on top, literally called the Musicians Tomb, where musicians without a burial spot can be interred.

After the tour we stopped for some drinks to cool down then went in search of the St. Charles Ave trolley/streetcar. The Garden District bordering the French Quarter seemed like a beautiful sightseeing opportunity but let me tell you, for those of us not used to this heat and humidity walking around can get exhausting pretty quickly! We wanted to see the famous beautiful houses but weren’t about to amble up and down the streets so we hopped on a streetcar at the corner of Canal and Carondelet to swing down the length of St. Charles Ave for us. Highly recommend for those of you without a lot of time and with a desire to sit back and watch the pretty scenery go by. I like to think we got the general gist of the Garden District.

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This chateau reminded me so much of the sights in my own hometown of Newport, RI! It looks very similar to some of the historic mansions we’ve got lining Bellevue Avenue.

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A lot of the trees were absolutely covered in Mardi Gras beads, which I can’t decide how I feel about yet. They look so cool, but I can’t help but wonder how the trees fare.

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Relaxing at the hotel for a little bit to work up our appetites was next on our list, then we were out in search of boiled crawfish. I was absolutely adamant about trying them because come on, where else are you going to want to enjoy (or not enjoy, but still try!) boiled crawfish than in Louisiana? Literally no where! So we did it, and it went much better than expected. I actually liked them!

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They look positively traumatizing, and I still can’t believe that so little of them is actually eaten, but we ate this whole thing! I will admit that we watched YouTube videos to teach us how it’s correctly done.

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Robin’s first attempt: looking confident!

We conquered the crawfish and got ourselves some delicious fudge on the walk back as a reward for our triumphs, falling into bed happily sunned and full of food in anticipation of yet another early rising, long day of driving.

SUNDAY

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On our last day, we woke up relatively early (again) and decided to take one last crack at the Café Du Monde beignets before hitting the road. This time we learned our lesson and split an order. We even picked up some of their famous Coffee and Chicory (remember when I attempted to make something like that?) as a souvenir. By the time we got back to the hotel and finished up our powdered sugar coated treats, the car had been pulled ’round and we were ready to hit the road!


It was a long weekend, this is a long post, but I hope I conveyed just how much I absolutely loved every minute spent in The Big Easy.

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Are you planning on going? What’s on your list that we may have missed out on? Because I definitely plan on going back.

Real Moments: From Gardening to Glasgow to Graduation!

I’m well aware that there has been a lull in posts for the last few weeks – but that’s not for lack of things to say, trust me! An explanation by means of a life update felt in order.

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The most perfect of white camellias – which I cannot take the credit for finding. Tony, the head gardener at Inish Beg, discovered this beautiful botanical gem buried back behind the hydrangeas.

Apparently the letter ‘G’ has been the flavor of the past few weeks for me. What felt like immediately after my return from a month and a half of gardening in Ireland, but in actuality was only a week or so later, I set off on a trip to the homeland with my grandmother. My maternal grandparents hail from Glasgow, Scotland so we went over to visit a few relatives for two weeks.

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The view of Princess Street and beyond from Edinburgh Castle.

As I’ve been to Scotland a fair few times throughout my life prior to this trip, the travel bug wasn’t that strong and we didn’t venture off too far… with the exception of a day trip to the capital city. I must admit that I’m very proud of my 72 year old grandmother for trekking all over Edinburgh with me and not complaining once! We had a bonnie wee time to ourselves, we did.

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Took some time to go see The Elephant House – otherwise known as the birthplace of Harry Potter – while in Edinburgh. My nana was abhorred by the “graffiti” on the wall of the bathrooms but it’s common practice to sign a message when visiting.

I kid you not, the very next morning after flying back to the States from Scotland I drove off for a weekend of glowraging with my favorite girlfriends down in Maryland. The five of us met back in Cambridge, England last summer and this was a reunion mixed with a last hurrah. I’m so thankful to have made such lasting friendships with these ladies. They’re some of the most impressive, inspirational young women I have ever met and I just… well, I’m really grateful to know them. It was incredible to be down on their turf for a little while. Our weekend was over much too soon.

 

Upon returning it was straight on to preparing for the final tassel on the cap – my graduation! Technically I finished school back in December… and received my diploma in January… but the formal ceremony was in May and I did it!

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Took my family to one of my favorite spots after the ceremony – Punter’s Pub. A blurry cheers to 5 years was certainly in order!

I’m officially officially really definitely done with my undergraduate experience now. Please excuse me while I take a few seconds to mime the word “WHAT????” to this empty room I’m sitting in. It truly went by too quickly, but I’m thankful for the people I got to experience it with… most notably getting to go through it all with my very best friend in the whole wide world. It’s thanks to our alma mater that we were even brought together in the first place so leaving for the last time was a little bittersweet.

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This photo is the most tear inducing thing I’ve ever been a part of! 5 years later and still my absolute soul sister, twin moon, best friend. Cannot wait to see what the heck we end up making of our lives.

Now, it should come as a shock to no one that I’m pretty big on reflection and introspection so I’ll wrap this up with a few things I have to say about this here life I’ve been living lately. Over the past 3 months I’ve been unsettled in the best of ways. Most of my time was spent outside of my comfort zone, pushing personal boundaries, and learning new things. From the correct way to plant a tree to why patience is the ultimate virtue, from how to enjoy those precious few moments crossing the stage (instead of panicking about tripping over yourself in front of your entire class) to the significance of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and way, way more. But most of all I’ve been questioning whether, at the ripe old age of 23, I’m on the life/existence/etc. path/journey/etc. that I want to be on. My answer?

For SURE, I am. In the past year alone I’ve spent 1/3 of my months abroad. I attempted to list out all of the different things I’ve studied (in some way, shape, or form) over the course of said year but let’s not double up our word count, shall we? Instead let’s just say that it has been quite the experience, the last 3 months I’ve recounted to you in this post especially.

As always, thank you kindly for following along on all of these adventures with me! We’ve got a many more ahead of us, so stay tuned for the tales.

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Life Lessons from the Garden

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Almost 2 months ago when I told my family I would be leaving to go work outside on an estate in Ireland for a little while, they were incredulous. To them, and friends, and many others, it didn’t fit their image of me. They couldn’t see why I felt a need to do this. But to me, a lot of my childhood was spent outside and a lot of my lifehood is spent searching for something, anything, new to learn.

So that’s why I did it.

I want to once again say thank you to Tony, the head gardener I had the privilege of working with at Inish Beg. We had many conversations over my 6 weeks in West Cork and while some days those conversations were more oriented towards my obsessions with potatoes and Ice Road Truckers, most days they were of a more reflective and thought provoking nature. Whether or not Tony was aware of all the cogs turning and perspectives shifting in my head is another story, but turn and shift they did and this post is only a handful of the ones I took away from it all.

A few weeks ago I watched a movie called “A Little Chaos” which is about the construction of the gardens at Versailles. Not only is the original score almost unbearably beautiful (highly recommend giving the title track a listen), but the story and design of the movie itself were really moving for me. There was a particular quote in the beginning of the film that struck me:

“God put us first into a garden, and when we lost Eden we were fated to search and reinvent it again.”

Maybe without the context of the film this isn’t so moving for you, but it’s definitely a notion that has stayed with me since I heard it. I love being outside, I’ve always loved being outside, and as a relatively young person a lot of my life now feels like a search for the places I feel most comfortable in.

In a way, this trip was a piece of my search for Eden – and here is what I found.


Give back what’s taken | bare root planting

I’m gonna kick this paragraph off by saying bare root planting is hard but it was probably the thing I enjoyed the most. Before this trip I had planted one single tree in my lifetime, on a study abroad trip, and it was quite a different lesson. People aren’t the only things that destroy nature (though I will definitely agree they’re the largest cause). The elements, disease, plain old coincidence and circumstance – they all have a hand to play. It became a sort of fundamental importance to put back into the earth whatever was taken, regardless of the cause. In the case of self-seeding plants, Mother Nature might just do it herself. But in the case of trees and hedge and fruits and veg a little human help is probably greatly appreciated.

Give and take has always been around, I’ve heard people saying it all my life. But now I see that it applies to all facets: to the things we consume and create as well as the friendships and kinships and small ships and big ships and what? Where was I going with that? Oh yeah, kindness finds its roots in giving – so that it can grow better branches to take from.

Keep it simple | small garden beds

Massive scale is hardly something I’ll be able to balance in my own future gardening endeavors, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want to enjoy fresh foods, herbs, and flowers. Keeping it simple doesn’t always have to translate to keeping it small, that just happens to be how my own personal garden will manifest itself. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed or discouraged it’s important to remember that a little can go a long way. So I’ll be starting with the basics: potatoes and maybe a flower or two.

Aside from gardens, there are a lot of aspects of my life that I want to simplify. I feel that there is so much overcomplication these days and that’s a huge stress trigger for me. I hate wasted space, I hate lugging around a huge closet of things I don’t even wear, I hate trying to make convoluted plans just to spend quality time with friends… so it’s all getting nixed! Simple eating, simple living, simple wearing, simple being – I’m here on out making the conscious effort.

Have vision | the winter season

Now, arriving to work on a garden in the winter season is not exactly the best idea if you want to see luscious, blooming flowers and fresh, green shrubbery. Most of what I worked with was brown and dampened, but I was conditioned into a sense of remembering that life was still in full swing all around us. Just because a plant was brown or wasn’t visible didn’t mean that it was dead. Winter is not a deadly season, it’s a resting season. Whenever I learned new plants or got assigned new tasks, we’d talk through what those plants would become or why those tasks were instrumental to promoting their growth. Creating those visions made me excited for the things I was doing because I had a better grasp on what was to come.

I consider myself a person with a healthy amount of creativity and a big imagination, but I also know that I struggle with preconception. If I’m working on something new, it’s fairly easy for me to open my mind but when it’s something I think I know and understand already, breaking down the walls to create that vision becomes more difficult. There are a million different adjectives you can use to describe this quality of myself (hey now, I heard that one!), but let’s just stick with visionistically impaired.

Work the lens both ways | the brassica bed & pruning the Rosa Rugosas

What I mean by that is step back just as much as you zoom in. The Rosa Rugosas were probably my favorite plants of the entire trip, and it’s a shame that I won’t get to see them in bloom. When I did a little research I discovered that they are not in fact a spell from Harry Potter but are actually noted in the US for being a tough dune plant, highly concentrated along the Northeast coastline. Pruning them, however, is relatively challenging considering the entirety of their branches are covered in small thorns. In gardening, there is a fine balance between the aesthetic and the practical. You have to be empirical in pruning back the roses because you want them to be healthy, however you also have to be conscious of the look and shape they will produce after said pruning. AKA you’ve got to step away every few cuts to make sure you haven’t lost sight of the bigger picture.

The brassica bed was a place I put a lot of work into my last few weeks. The bed itself was pretty much the only outdoor space we had providing fresh vegetables for the winter months, before the new seeds were sown and the new plants grown. Each week we’d pick through broccoli and cauliflower, parsley and wild chives, kale and assorted rainbow chards. In no way was the general health of any of these plants attributable to me, but I happily took on preparing and maintaining them for a bit. Pulling a few weeds, cutting off the dead or slug-eaten leaves, and giving the soil a good turn were all relatively minor tasks yet they made such a huge difference in the appearance of the bed. When stepping back suddenly the greens looked greener and the since-staked slumped over broccolis looked taller. I contented myself with knowing that for such small modifications, they seemed to make a world of difference in the grand scheme.

Be gentle… | encountering bugs & new growth

Honestly, I’m terrified of bugs. When I was little my tolerance had a hard stop at snails and worms. Hopefully it isn’t news to you that gardens have all manners of bugs but I had to learn to suck it up and accept that a lot of them were on our side (although the slugs had to go). Apparently bumblebees hibernate! They bury themselves in the soil over the winter and I came across several while working through the strawberry beds. The Cassie of yesteryears would have likely screamed and run away but knowing the importance, especially in the general population decline, of those bees I tried my best to leave them as undisturbed as possible… or at least move them to a safer spot of soil. I found myself feeling a lot more compassion towards bugs than I ever have before, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

Bumblebees weren’t the only things I had to be careful of though. New growth was everywhere, and I just had to learn how to look for it. What little gardening skill I brought with me on this trip culminated in the brute force method of weeding – tug that sucker out as hard as you can and rip at whatever is left. Wrong! I had to kick that habit upon arrival because in this garden, there was a necessity to be gentle. That new growth was usually hidden deep under all of the weeds I was clearing away, or even looked like a weed itself, so it became important to take my time and use whatever gentleness I could muster. There was a satisfaction that came from slowly working the entirety, roots and all, of a weed out of the ground and leaving the beautiful new plants safely undisturbed beside it. There is a gentleness and compassion that is warranted with even the most imperceptible of things – including the weeds. Make of that what you will.

… but not delicate pretty much everything!

Again, Ireland in the winter is not a forgiving climate and I wasn’t even there for the worst of it. That’s not to say that I was out battering the elements for the sake of tidying up a few dead stalks of parsley, but I still had to learn to embrace a little rain and mud. I was excited about getting my hands dirty for once. This whole experience was meant to push the comfort zones of my physical, mental, and emotional states – and I’m happy to report that it did. I worked hard at removing hesitation from anything I was asked to do because that’s how you learn and grow as a person (or something). I got comfortable with the dirt and the mud, the shoveling and the wheelbarrowing. Not being super strong didn’t stop me from trying as best I could and I like to think that I made my coworkers proud… because I can definitely say that I made me proud of me.

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A panorama from inside the Walled Garden. That big bed in the left-center is the brassica bed I worked on!

Books I Brought Abroad [@WestCorkIRL]

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Travel Tip: figure out if your hosts used to own a bookshop in London and therefore have MASSES of reading options available for your perusal before you travel…

Packing to go anywhere is a struggle for me, as it is for most others as well. Some agonize over shoes, some over makeup, some over sweatshirts. I happen to agonize most extremely over books. Depending on how far out from the trip I am, I can spend weeks planning what reads to take with me. They get stockpiled in a corner of my room until the dreaded day when I have to see what fits. This year, I almost had to leave behind two whole paperbacks but I made the game time decision to kick out a pair of nicer boots in order to fit them in my case and let me tell you, I don’t regret a thing.

Since reading is such a huge part of my life and experiences, I wanted to give a quick list and a little note on each of the books I took with me to Ireland. I’m not huge on reviews, but some thoughts and nice quotes never hurt anyone. Maybe you’ll see something that sparks your interest.

Note before going further: none of these books are contemporary so be advised that if you’re looking for the latest Stephen King novel you won’t find it here.

Okay, continue.


JANE EYRE | CHARLOTTE BRONTË

“I should have appealed to your nobleness and magnanimity at first, as I do now – opened to you plainly my life of agony – described to you my hunger and thirst after a higher and worthier existence – shown to you, not my resolution (that word is weak), but my resistless bent to love faithfully and well, where I am faithfully and well loved in return.”

This has been a long time pushed off book and to be honest, a huge motivation to read it recently has been all thanks to Netflix. Every time I logged in to my profile I would get the recent Jane Eyre movie as a recommendation and I swore never to watch it until I read it. Impatience got the best of me and here we are. One thing genuinely surprising about this book is its captivation. I adore Austen, don’t get me wrong, but her style is the first that comes to mind when thinking of 18th-19th century novels and how authors take a few pages to go off on descriptive tangents where they almost forget about the reader and write for themselves. Charlotte Brontë masters maintaining that connection and it genuinely turned this book into a hard to put down read for me. Not to mention it’s written as a memoir so there is a huge interest in following Jane’s life from early development to older (but still pretty young) adulthood. Not a crazy big fan of the ending, but all in all worth the weight.

THE TRIAL | FRANZ KAFKA

“He now decided to make better use of all his future Sunday mornings.”

We all know those people who use words like “Kafkaesque” and dolly garn I wanted to be one of them! Kafka, like Proust, is one of those authors I always assumed you needed a PhD to be able to read and a Masters to even consider reading. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t say that I agree. I also can’t say that I was 100% into this one because, well, I wasn’t. The day I began reading The Trial was the day I stopped by The Time Traveller’s Bookshop and while there I noticed a work titled “A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory” by J.A. Cuddon. Forget the fact that it looked to weigh a million pounds and yet I still spent serious time considering whether or not to purchase it (I did), I was curious to see if it had a definition of “Kafkaesque” somewhere in its many pages. It did. And The Trial is cited as a top example of all that the term implies. So while I didn’t necessarily like this book, or Kafka’s style at all to be quite honest, at least I know that I’m semi-qualified to use his literary namesake as a reference in the future.

DUBLINERS | JAMES JOYCE

“That takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit!”

A friend gifted this to me a few years ago with a note explaining how it’s one of his favorites and I, being the terrible person that I am, put off reading it for soooo long. However, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to start it than on a quick trip over to the homeland so it found its way into the stash. Dubliners is a collection of short stories about the lives and trials of middle class people from, you guessed it, Dublin in the early 1900s. The key word here is collection, as in not to be taken separately. At first, I felt that every story seemed to end too quickly, and very few actually provided a concrete resolution to the problem or issue presented. Worse, I couldn’t find any sort of lesson/message in them. However, that’s because I was reading the whole book incorrectly. The short stories are not meant to be taken as themselves individually but rather altogether as a compendium of life in Dublin. After looking back at the title, I feel like that’s probably obvious to everyone else but me? Anyways, just keep it in mind if you pick up a copy. My favorite of the collection was “A Little Cloud” though I’ve seen a lot of people suggest “Eveline” as the most noteworthy – both make you seriously consider the concept of alternatives, both I highly recommend.

TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES | THOMAS HARDY

“A very easy way to feel [souls] go is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at all.”

God love Thomas Hardy. Also God love the edition of this novel I brought with me. It’s beautifully designed; I found it at Brookline Booksmith in Massachusetts so if you’re going to order a copy I highly recommend getting it from there. Support the independent sellers, y’all.

Anyways, back to Thomas Hardy. What a freaking writer! The style of that man is something else. I would say A but I’m inclined to say My Perfect Contrast with the king of simplification himself, Ernest Hemingway (my favorite male author, just a FYI). For every 1 word that’s needed, Hardy gives you 4. I love how descriptive he is and I would love to be able to emulate writing like that. However, that’s about all the love I can give for this book because to be completely honest I was not at all a fan of the story. I can absolutely see why this novel received so much criticism in its time of initial publication – but all I’ll say further on that matter is that those people were Wrong, with a capital W. The best example of a character you’re genuinely rooting for, despite all the malefactions that come her way.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS | EMILY BRONTË

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I realized I probably should have also brought one of dear Anne’s novels along with me to make it a real trilogy experience but alas. Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite rereadable books of all time and it is genuinely deserving of the habitual attention. I clarify rereadable because Anna Karenina is also a favorite but that puppy can only be tackled so many times, you know? And by so many I mean once for the very far off foreseeable future. I digress – for all intents and purposes I name this as my favorite book and this particular copy happens to go pretty much everywhere with me. It’s my safety novel. No matter where I am, I’ll always be able to turn to it in times of literary need. The story is unconventional to say the least. It’s chock-full of characters I love to hate because I hate to love them. It simultaneously invokes pity and indifference while conveying what it means to truly love someone, in all the ardent extremes. It’s also not everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re looking for a sweet 19th century love affair allow me to direct you to the Austen shelf.

THE IDIOT | FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY

“And what’s more, flourishes are permitted, and a flourish is a most dangerous thing! A flourish calls for extraordinary taste; but if it succeeds, if the right proportion is found, a script like this is incomparable, you can even fall in love with it.”

This goes back to my November sudden obsession with Russian literature. I packed this without actually skimming through the publishing style and what a doozie! If the look of Kafka was frustrating to get through (it was, it really pilcrowing was) then bringing The Idiot along was borderline masochistic. I saved this book for last for a good reason: plane reading. I can read just about anything on a plane, including all safety procedural guides (which everyone really should be reading anyway!), and at the time of packing this seemed like a nice fallback for when I inevitably did what I did and suffered from War & Peace flashbacks within the first 20 pages. It’s taking a little bit longer for me to get into the mood for The Idiot.

At the time of publishing this post, I am approximately not very far through this book and therefore I’m unable to offer any sort of thoughts on it. I’d say so far, so good but in case you were wondering Goodreads says “In the end, Myshkin’s (the main character’s) honesty, goodness, and integrity are shown to be unequal to the moral emptiness of those around him.” So… make of that what you will!


Please do reach out with thoughts and suggestions of your own for what books you absolutely refuse to travel without. Also, check out how these bad boys helped me in my 20[16k] challenge!

Voyages: Welcome to Inish Beg! – Part II [@WestCorkIRL]

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Inish Beg House

The local West Corkonians joke about how everyone is always ready to talk about the weather here, but I love it and I feel like I fit right in with it so – allow me to tell you (mostly via showing you) about the beautiful Sunday afternoon I had wandering around the estate a few weeks ago.

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The first thing I saw when I set off on my adventure was that the sheep had been moved from one of the back fields to the front field! I munched on an apple as I walked alongside them, so it almost felt like we were having lunch together. I assume all of them are named Shaun. They’ve since been moved around again to prepare for lambing.

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Vitamin D was in full force and I couldn’t get enough of it. I tried to keep the sun on my person at all times, but it gets a little difficult in the dense woodland areas so a reflection had to suffice.

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I really love adding anecdotes with pictures for my voyages, don’t I? Well… Anecdote: As I approached this area of the island I couldn’t help but remember studying Robert Frost with a much beloved English teacher during my freshman year of high school – Miss A. I pursued this particular path at Inish Beg “because it was grassy and wanted wear.” But no matter where I am in my journeys at home and abroad, if I am ever to stumble across a peculiar looking area I always think of Miss A and choose to take the road less travelled by… “and that has made all the difference.”

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Another lesson I’ve learned over the years is to always turn around. Oftentimes when we set off in a direction, we pursue that specific direction until we reach where we’re going. If I’m out for a leisurely stroll I like to look all around me – upwards, sideways, backwards, etc. I probably appear to others as a crazy person but it’s worth it. Looking backwards in my less travelled haven gave me this blue-skied beautiful contrast of wild grasses.

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As I reached the edge of said wild grasses, I found a little beach-like area leading towards the water. At first I thought “cool! I’ll make my way down there as carefully as I can so as to leave whatever habitats might be around undisturbed!” Wrong. Just like on the opposite side of the island I immediately started to sink into the muddy banks and left quite the trail behind me. As the water was still a ways off, I turned back rather than risk being sunk up to my elbows.

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Isn’t this place just swell? Beautiful beautiful, and moments before taking this picture I spied a fox run off into the sanctuary of the bushes in front of me. Never had I ever seen fur that bright red, in fact never had I ever seen a fox in person before and I’m still kicking myself for not catching it on camera. Than again, can I really complain about getting to soak in this view with my very own eyeballs for a few seconds longer?

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This bridge to get onto the island is an actual architectural marvel. Believe you me, I’ve had my moments of shaking my head and saying “they just don’t make them like that anymore” on several occasions and each time I get laughed at for being an absolute baby child who has no concept of what being old even is. But it’s respected that I respect it, and that’s all that I can ask for. Rad to the highest degree, that’s what I dub this bridge.

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The Cassie of 4 weeks ago: look at this GIANT tree! The Cassie of now: look at this Monterey Cypress! Another member of the wicked-old-tree-family collection here on Inish Beg, situated just at the end of Rad Bridge. This big guy is actually my tried and true favorite tree on the estate because I spent my first day planting hedge alongside him.

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I’ve actually started calling the Monterey Cypress trees “Armadillo trees” because they have fascinating nuts that look like a cross between a Poke Ball and an Armadillo. These things find their way all over the island and they’re surprisingly hard to pull into bits. I swear I’m an adult and not a 4 year old. I swear.

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Couldn’t help myself with a little behind-the-scenes selfie in the front garden fountain. Also, my mom made this beanie for me, so can I call myself a hipster yet? Bonus content: that good old Irish weather hair frizz I’ve got going on.

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Yet another reason to look in every direction possible, no? Inish Beg is home to a very beautiful bamboo forest affectionately named “Bamboozle.”

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And finally right back to where I started: the marvelously marvelous (ace use of adjectives there, Cass) – Inish Beg House.

Unfortunately, my time here is drawing to a close and soon it’s back home to the States for me. But never fear, darling reader. Catch up on why I’m here at Inish Beg in the first place and skim through all my @WestCorkIRL adventures while you patiently wait to see what I’ve got in store for my next voyage…