Café Cake Crawl – Skibbereen Edition [@WestCorkIRL]

We all know how a bar/pub crawl works. It’s a feat of stamina, of endurance, and in the end mostly of regret. You might be wondering how I came up with the idea to do a Café Cake Crawl and the story is simple: I was sitting in a café, eating a piece of cake, and I wanted another. Skibbereen has so many incredible little cafés renowned for their baked goods and I thought to myself that this might be the best way to try them all out. Plus, look at that alliteration! How was I supposed to turn that down?

After excitedly planning out the route one afternoon, I opted to push the day of goodness off for another week so as to get a proper start at it. Well, friends… that week was last. And that cake was crawled. In a lot of ways, I felt just as wrecked as if I were drinking beer instead of eating cake. My stomach turned on me like a veritable Edward Cullen, just having to endure it as my blood sugar levels peaked to dangerous heights. But I ask you, what kind of crawl would it be without suffering and perseverance?

Please kindly leave your judgment at the homepage, and proceed to read about the 6 slices of cake I consumed with the aid of 3 pots of tea, 2 Americanos, and 1 mystery coffee. It was not one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, but it was definitely one of the unhealthiest.

As I reached the halfway point I wasn’t sure I could go on, but my best friend sent some encouragement from across the pond: “I believe in you. Mind over batter.” And with that, I found the strength to fight the good fight. I give you my very first Café Cake Crawl! Secondhand enjoy the experience.

Benedict’s Café

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Lemon Drizzle Cake with whipped cream & a pot of black tea

This was the first café I ever visited in Skibbereen so I found it a fitting beginning for my crawl. Benedict’s has an incredible family feel, which I’m pretty sure is due to it being run by an actual family (there is no website to confirm or deny that assumption so you’ll just have to trust me). Most people seemed to be there for the heartier meals, but I had my eyes on a very specific prize. Let me tell you – this was an ACE combo. The tang of the lemon in the icing was a perfect match for my ever so sweetened tea. I can this classic being ordered by the box for bridge night refreshments or book club. I also developed a quick obsession with the style of the tea ware. It’s a habit of mine to absentmindedly hold on to my mug for a while before setting it back on the saucer and that can get uncomfortable with a rounded handle. This set featured a perfect fit for the two fingers it actually takes to support the glass and I will definitely be trying to furnish any future homes with similarly designed goods.

I give this cake a go-to when someone orders “a wee cuppa and cake, please love” out of 10.

An Chistin Beag

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Lemon Sponge & a pot of black tea (guest appearance by some orange juice)

It was an almost unfortunate miss with this café because I literally didn’t know it was there. The difficult thing about Skibbereen is that the eatery attractions are not so easily googleable (is it even possible for me to go through a single post without mentioning Google?) so my research is done mostly via asking the locals. An Chistin Beag, literally “The Small Kitchen,” came highly recommended when I spoke of what I was doing (and let me tell you, trying to explain a solo Cake Crawl puts you in a very funny situation). I can confirm that even though I still have no idea how to pronounce its name correctly, this café’s cake did not disappoint.

They say in heaven cake comes first, and these ladies certainly made heaven a place on earth – otherwise known as the frosting on their Lemon Sponge. The whole café has a comfortable, welcoming look about it with exposed brick, wooden floors, and those word art wooden deco boards but it doesn’t stop there. The comfortable, welcoming attentiveness of my waitress left me thinking “she was just so nice, how can get that nice?” hours later. Basically, all good things to say about my experience here.

I give this cake a sweet dreams are made of these out of 10.

Apple Betty’s Café

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Coconut Jam Slice & an Americano

The number one thing I learned from Apple Betty’s Café is don’t judge a café by its cover. From the outside the place looked to be rather small, similar to an old American deli with a counter and maybe one or two metal tables inside, so I had avoided it on prior trips. Upon entering it for my crawl I found it to be huge! And extremely cozy! The Coconut Jam Slice jumped out as the most interesting choice and I’ll admit I went into it with absolutely 0 idea of what to expect because I don’t think I’d ever seen those things put together before. As Apply Betty’s is known for it’s coffee (there was a sign reading “As long as there is coffee in the world, how bad could things be?”) I had to go for an Americano, though I think tea would have been the better suited companion. Regardless, this was yet another void-of-disappointment stop along my crawl and the raspberry jam gets massive props for that. Also the woman/man (Betty?) who decided to put all the elements together to craft this; she/he rightfully deserves my many thanks.

I give this cake a pleasantest surprise out of 10.

Kalbos Café

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Brown Sugar and Espresso Pavlova with mixed berries & an Americano

Arriving at Kalbos, I was feeling pretty good as I scanned the multitude of options behind and on top of the glass casings. Several more obvious “cakes” jumped out at me for taste testing but look at that thing – I had to try the Pavlova. The outside is similar to a French macaron and the inside is of a softer, chewier consistency with amber sugary drizzles dispersed throughout then topped with cream and fruit. Definitely the most interesting dish of the day and I could not have imagined a more perfect pairing than the rich Americano I ordered to wash it down with.

Kalbos Café has one location next to the Uillinn, or West Cork Art Centre, and (as I’ve described before) it’s very aesthetically pleasing. I had a supremely difficult time choosing which treat to indulge in as my eyes were barraged with an overload of apple and pear and elderflower and chocolate and berries everywhere I looked. The cakes are renowned by the locals as legitimately award-winning (Best Café in Cork – 2016 Irish Restaurant Awards) and it’s been the most recommended Skibbereen eatery to me since my arrival. With a staff as friendly and courteous as they are, I 100% agree that Kalbos is a most fantastic establishment.

I give this cake a finished it in one go out of 10.

The Church Restaurant

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Church Apple Tart with fresh cream and apricot sauce & a pot of black tea

Again, you’ve seen the inner design of this place in my aforementioned Voyages post and this visit around it was in full lunch swing by the time I arrived. Mind you, at this point in the day my stomach was decidedly full with more sugar than anyone needed and I was truly unsure of what treat could possibly beckon my appetite when in such a state. The savoury smells flooding the premises helped to neutralize my stomach ache and as the waitress listed off the options, I jumped at the mention of Apple Tart. I’m not sure why I ever doubted The Church Restaurant, but I sat hoping with fingers crossed that it would be presented warmed up and I was not disappointed. This little slice of homey goodness was exactly what I needed to make it ever closer to the finish line. Not entirely sure, but I’m 87% positive that the sauce drizzled along the side was of an apricot nature and MAN, did I want to take gallons and gallons back home with me.

I give this cake a heartwarmingly delicious out of 10.

Field’s Café

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Double Chocolate Cake & a coffee

An adjoining-a-supermarket café, but I wanted to give it a chance. Field’s Supervalu keeps it simple. It is always the busiest place I visit because it’s peppered with many a weary shopper or gaggle of young children tugged out for a day of errands. I couldn’t see an actual name for this cake so I christened it the Double Chocolate. This beverage is listed as “coffee” on the menu but I’m not sure if that’s coffee in the American right or if it’s really an Americano? I kind of got a filtery taste out of it so if you told me this was good old fashioned drip coffee I’d probably believe you but let me tell you, I’m hard French-pressed to find that anywhere when I travel in Western Europe.

I give this cake a not waking up in the middle of the night for it out of 10. But Little Cassie would give it a *foot stomp* MOM PUH-LEASE out of 10.

At the end of the day I couldn’t imagine taking another bite. In fact, as I sit here writing this a few hours later I couldn’t imagine taking another bite. Further in fact, as I sit here editing one week later I still couldn’t imagine it.

Next time, I’d very much appreciate a friend to share in the sugary fare so let me know if you’ve got any noteworthy cake cities in mind and we’ll plan a trip – first cup of coffee on me!

Voyages: Skibbereen & Baltimore [@WestCorkIRL]

Note: Remember back in the good old days when you’d have to avoid a lot of images on a web page because loading them with dial-up was a nightmare? I wanted to warn you just in case you’re not all initiated into decent wi-fi / 4s / 1080p horsepower or whatever the heck the good internet is these days. This post is extremely photo heavy because I’m combining two voyages into one so sorry not sorry (just reminiscent) about it.

Saturday mornings in Skibbereen are starting to become a routine for me and I’m for sure going to miss them when I’m gone. I love every second I spend in the quaint little market town, which apparently confuses some of the locals who don’t see much to do there, but I’ve only got a short window of time left to enjoy it. This particular Saturday before last was a cold one. The rain had been at it all night long and I was sure it was never going to let up. Shortly after being dropped off in the earlier AM hours, I made the commitment to stay indoors and read for as long as possible until moving on to outdoor adventures in the afternoon.

At one point in the midmorning I overheard a waitress saying to a nearby couple “’tis cold, but ’tis jolly” and I decided that never in a million years could I have come up with a better depiction of Skibbereen on a late February morning than that.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

The streets were bustling on Saturday morning, with locals milling about the farmers market and meeting up with each other in cafes and restaurants. You better believe that the girl walking around with a giant backpack and a camera stood out as “NOT FROM HERE.”

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

A few people told me to check out this Church-turned-Restaurant, for aesthetic reasons at the very least, and I was definitely not disappointed. The place was buzzing despite the early hour. Anecdote: I have a terrible habit of not being able to tune out other people around me when I’m trying to read in public places (like cafes) and at one point I overheard the man at the table next to me saying “something about the way they burn the barley makes it neutral… so you can have as much Guinness as you like… that’s what my doctor told me.” I’m not sure who that doctor is, but I’m going to go ahead and rely on that advice which I don’t fully understand (as I do with most doctors) because YUM.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Take a peep at the interior of Church Restaurant. I could not get over the fact that the cakes and baked goods were all laid out on the altar. Talk about a religion I want to be a part of.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

After some breakfast I went to scout out the local book shop. I mean, come on do I even need to explain why?

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

There’s just something about wood and books that makes for an intimately relaxed feel. That very feeling here at The Time Traveller’s Bookshop was what enticed me to spend well over an hour perusing the shelves. I even got to hold a first edition copy of “David Copperfield” and subsequently tried very hard not to hyperventilate on it. Seriously considering leaving all my clothes behind at the end of my trip in favor of filling my case with these rare beauties.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

I’m gonna go ahead and make a generalization that a lot of people don’t know that Skibbereen played a huge part in The Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. I was one of those people until Paul, my host, kindly told me a lot more information on the subject (and gave me a great book to read about it). The Heritage Centre features all sorts of resources about the Great Famine years, the marine marvel that is Lough Hyne, and tracing family trees.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Kalbos Cafe is situated between the West Cork Art Centre and a tiny little body of water flowing down into the larger river which Google Maps is not providing me with the name of. The huge glass windows looking outside were very cool and the cafe itself had a really great, cozy interior style. There is an adjoining deck and I’m betting that all the glass windows open right up to let patrons enjoy the, what I assume to be infrequent, sunshine in the summer.

Later in the afternoon, after a few too many cups of coffee, I met up with Tony from Inish Beg and we set off to check out some of the local attractions outside of the Skibbereen town center. Thankfully the rain had in fact let up a bit, but the cold was still lingering. We braved through it though. First stop, Lough Hyne.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Another Wild Atlantic Way sign! And this one happens to be situated at the site of the only salt-water lake (“Lough”) in Ireland. Word on the street is that its fascinating ecosystems and marine life make it one of the most studied bodies of water in the world. My hostess Georgie, ever the superwoman, swims at Lough Hyne pretty much all year round.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

We were visiting the Lough at a beautiful close-to-sunset hour and the lighting was breathtakingly reflective. Upon review, most of my pictures were just of the water’s surface. Way off in the distance down that little channel is the area known as “The Rapids” – aka the place where the salt water flows in and out from the Atlantic Ocean. Not really sure that I have to clarify how peaceful of a place Lough Hyne is, but I will just in case.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Holy wells apparently exist all over Ireland and some quick Google searching has told me that they were of Pagan origin before becoming mostly Christianized way back when. Regardless, there is one nestled back in the trees by a freshwater brook close to Lough Hyne and we took a little hike to seek it out.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Many people consider the wells to be sacred and spiritual so they come to pray or make wishes or leave offerings, etc. etc. This one happened to be my favorite because come on, you’ve seen my sidebar. I agree that a nice cold Bud Heavy in a frosted glass bottle can feel like a religious experience. Suffice it to say, I took a drink from the well hoping it was filled with the King of Beers but unfortunately it was just water.

After marveling at the Lough one last time, we set off for Baltimore. You might remember my mentioning how the island of Inish Beg is situated between two towns so it was only fitting that Baltimore receive ample exploration time as well. Much smaller than Skibbereen, but in some ways I thought more beautiful.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

We drove over a few hills to get to Baltimore and had to weave our way down towards the water before hairpinning back up to the cliffs on the outskirts. As we arrived into town you could just spot the harbor ahead.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

The hike up the cliffs was sufficiently terrifying and I relied on my zoom to get me as close as I wanted to the edge, while staying physically very very far away. The water and the wind and the cliffs made for such incredible scenery. Fresh sea air unfortunately not included with this photograph.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

This is The Beacon! The very thing we hiked up to see! They don’t mess around when it comes to naming things, these West Corkers (Corkians? Cortians? … *Googles* … “Corkonians” – I wasn’t far off). They stick with the practical: The Baltimore Beacon was (and still is?) meant to guide ships into the harbour. This picture doesn’t do the size justice, but this thing is huge. ~50 ft high huge.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Another thing I couldn’t get over was the turquoise water, even though it was so cold! And February! I’m used to seeing dark blue borderline black waters in the wintertime Atlantic Ocean but here it looked almost tropical. Not quite enticing enough for cliff diving, but close.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Tony is the Head Gardener at Inish Beg and we spend a few days a week working together around the estate. He was a good sport about hiking around in the cold with me! Even though he was in Converses and I had on the hiking boots, he was able to climb back down the muddy slopes way faster than I could ever hope to. Can you tell from the outfit (hint: mine was even MORE bundled) how that water is in no way, shape, or form tropical?

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Andddd another Wild Atlantic Way sign. There are tons of islands that people can get to in this part of Ireland and a ferry waits patiently in the harbour to usher around to each of them. My being prone to seasickness and overall aversion to being out on the water in the winter does not make me a good candidate for the experience but it’s cool to know that it happens!

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

As we were leaving and the sun was tucking in for the night, I couldn’t help but be struck by the resemblance the empty Baltimore Harbour had to my own hometown and more specifically to the stretch of water right down the street from my house. Seeing this some might think of homesickness, but for me it was more like a fond reminder.

Adventuring around the localities was a day well spent and, as per usual on my travels, now that I’ve finally started feeling comfortable I have to prepare to say my goodbyes sooner than I’d like. A few more short weeks of huddling with my tea and cake in the Skibbereen coffee shops, then it’s back home to my little Rhode Island reminder of Baltimore.

Special shout out to Tony, Paul, and Georgie for their excellent West Corkonian benignity!

A List of Cooking Tips For A Novice Like Me [@WestCorkIRL]

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Go ahead and ask anyone who knows me and they’ll happily laugh in your face if you ask them about my past baking escapades. Nutella chocolate chip cookies? Apparently adding a whole jar of Nutella to the regular recipe is not how you do it. My misfortune extends into general cooking as well – I have a longstanding fear of chicken after all the times I’ve messed it up.

Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t tried tried again over the years, because believe me I have. I find that I always get too experimental while baking, which requires being more exact, and too exact while cooking, which allows for being experimental.

Let’s quickly talk about the encore though because that certainly is something I excel in: I’ve been eating very well while here in West Cork. Georgie, my hostess, makes sure of that with whatever her berry crumble compote with homemade vanilla ice cream was last week (which I can confidently say I ate about half the pan of). And then there’s Fiona, the housekeeper here at Inish Beg, who (amongst many other kind things she does for me) has graciously invited me to family birthday gatherings with the headliners being her scrumptious cakes. If I didn’t know any better I’d say I’ve stepped right into the only child version of Hansel & Gretel.

This past weekend the Estate (Georgie & Fiona) was literally catering to a very large hen party and I had the extreme pleasure of being allowed to help out. Friday afternoon was spent preparing soup, main course, and dessert (though they call it “pudding” over here) for 26 hungry hens. While I helped with little bits and pieces of the main dishes, the two things I worked on in full were the loaves of Ciabatta bread and Parmesan Shortbread cookies (“biscuits”). Thankfully, Georgie & Fiona were constant fixtures in the kitchen so I was never lost for guidance. They’re seasoned professionals (are you having that???) in cooking and baking so many a word of wisdom was offered to a novice like me.

Throughout the afternoon I made a mental note of those little tips they told and showed me. While I’m confident that a few of them slipped through this flour-sifter-excuse-for-a-brain of mine, I hope you’re able to learn something useful from the list I’ve compiled here!

Check your ingredients before you start the cooking/mixing/baking/any preparation process. Seems pretty obvious, but I’ve messed this up with cereal before and that’s literally only two ingredients so I try to keep drilling it in and maybe you should too.

Pour the uncooked rice into the pot of boiling water, don’t pour the boiling water onto the pot of uncooked rice. This prevents the rice from sticking to the pan. However, you should also stir it to be on the sticking safe side because it can still happen. Not speaking from personal experience here, definitely not.

Clean your kitchen as you go. This was especially relevant given the amount of cooking we were doing throughout the day but in general I can see how nice it is to have everything tidied and put away when the fruit of your labor is ready to be enjoyed.

When a recipe calls for warm water, it means it should be on the border of just warm enough to not burn you when you put your fingers in it.

As you roll your dough, rotate it in a circle to keep it from sticking to the table. Assuming you already know to flour the surface you’re rolling on, put some flour on the rolling pin to keep it from sticking to that too. Also a little bit on your hands can’t hurt…

Pack your tablespoons.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Oil everything when letting bread sit to rise. Similar to the whole flour concept, it’ll just make your life easier when you’re pulling it out of the bowl. Dough is incredibly sticky, who knew?

Save the foils from butter to use as an easy tool for greasing pans.

Give your bread a little tap on it’s underbelly when the bake time is up and if it sounds hollow, it’s done. The loaves we made were a bit thicker than the recipe had called for so Georgie turned them onto their backs for a few minutes to make sure the bottom cooked all the way through.

Fan ovens work best for baking. I’ve actually never even heard of a fan oven until I came over here. The circulation of the heat is really great for making your cakes and things bake evenly.

Egg whites are finished being whipped when you flip the bowl upside-down and they stay put. I had a mini heart attack watching Fiona test this one, I’ll be honest. Also as a side note, imagine how long it took to whip egg whites back in the pre-electric mixer days…

Taste test everything.

One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced is watching the loaves of bread, my loaves of bread if you will, come out of the oven all goldened and ready to eat. It’s one thing to dump a box of mix into a bread maker; it’s a whole other thing to work in all the individual ingredients and watch it rise before coming to fruition in a good old fashioned oven.

These tips have certainly helped inspire me to feel more confident, but I can’t say I’ll be hosting any 5-course dinners at my place in the near future. It was so much fun to watch and learn from two incredibly talented women such as Georgie & Fiona and I got a lot out of the experience.

But my favorite thing of all that I learned about cooking and baking?

It’s as easy as bread & biscuits.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

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

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Apparently the Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 km drive along Ireland’s West Coast and these signs mark popular spots to stop and take in the scenery! Doing the whole drive is definitely something I’m adding to the bucket list so, who wants to come with?

With a little less than a week gone by since I left the States, being at Inish Beg has already made me realize that it’s not so much the time to be alive as it is the place to be living. I absolutely adore this new short-term home of mine and I’ve been receiving many impatient inquiries as to what it’s like.

Before I get into it, I wanted to give a little bit of a rundown on the history of the area in which I am currently living. Inish Beg Estate is on the island of Inish Beg in West Cork, Ireland. It is situated just about halfway between two small towns, Baltimore and Skibbereen. The island itself has been inhabited for many centuries but the estate as a structure was not finished until 1899. The current owners, my wonderfully kind hosts Paul & Georgie Keane, moved to Inish Beg in 1997 and began restoration and development of the estate and island into a self-catering retreat (check out the website for more images of the actual properties).

Now, I already gave a quick explanation of what I’m doing here in a previous post and the only real amendment I wanted to make to that is my obvious accessibility to the internet! The weather has not been too kind, although it’s less up and down than New England temperatures seem to be at the moment, so adventuring around with my camera was a bit difficult. I did my very best for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but expect a possible Part II when the weather cooperates. Today’s goal was to get my bearings via walking around the outer paths of the island.

Also – the salty air from the nearby Atlantic Ocean was beckoning and I couldn’t bring myself to stray far from the water’s edge.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

The trees here are absolutely breathtaking. There are over 50 different species and the reforestation process as part of the estate’s rehabilitation is ongoing. Unfortunately, the harsh winter Ireland has had this year continues to wreak havoc on the older specimens but many of the big guys like this one are still standing.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Take an extra close look and you’ll see an old church off in the background across the way… which I have quite the hankering to explore.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

The water was at relatively low tide today but patches of wildflowers spruced up the view when needed.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

There are dozens of little… I can only think to call them peninsulas but some were islands in their own right I suppose… with undisturbed tall grasses, hanging around the edges of Inish Beg. My wellies pretty much made me invincible so I ventured around a few and found some different fresh water streams to jump across.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Weird anecdote: back in my messing around on photoshop days I used to be obsessed with frames. Any silly little collage I’d throw a random gilded frame into because apparently I liked the aesthetic and I find myself still leaning towards that framing theme when taking pictures now. However, this time my frames just happen to be trees.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

I couldn’t resist walking down to the water’s edge and I think the Atlantic knew I was coming back to visit it because every step sunk me deeper into the shore. Once it started crossing over my ankles I started to panic and turn back, though I desperately wish it were warm enough to keep going.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

I wanted to climb on this so badly!!! Can you imagine a better reading perch? Here, let me help you with that – no, no you cannot! This tree was l i t e r a l l y beckoning to me but I resisted possibly being the bough-breaker and sated myself by snapping a picture. *sigh*

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

This is a little nook called Pumpkin’s Puddle. A beautiful magical wonderful little place and that’s all that needs to be said.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

I’m told this is a spot where many people like to get married on the estate, but I’m going to choose to believe that it’s actually a faerie ring and henceforth spend all of my free time coming back to hopefully catch a glimpse. If I can’t become the Banshee of Wigtown, the Faerie Queen of West Cork is certainly an equally attractive alternative.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Sheepies! Still a little too traumatized from my kinder years of chasing them around the Scottish hillsides so for now I’m keeping my distance. They were very curious to see if I was coming up here to visit the…

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Horsies! Meet Thor and Loki! Not their actual names, but apparently people call them a lot of different things so it’s up for discussion… I think mine are first rate though. These guys are an absolute riot. Every morning and afternoon we bring them some sweet oats and they pick up on who brings the bucket verrrry quickly. Like I said, I’ve been here less than a week and I barely crested the hill to the stables when they started whinnying for me. They’re sweet little Shetlands.

And there you have it! This is just a quick glimpse of the adventure island I get to call home for the next 6 weeks, but you can bet I’ll be showing you around some more as soon as I can. But for now…

Welcome to Inish Beg!

Real Moments: Shipping Up to… Ireland!

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

My Essentials: new Helly Hansen jacket & Timberland hiking boots (thanks Mama!), more heavy sweaters than anyone really needs, the camera I rarely find an excuse to use, and a selection of stimulating reads (that copy of ‘Wuthering Heights’ goes everywhere with me)

“What are your plans for after graduation?”

Drinking game to how many times college seniors get asked that question in their final semester. A few months back, I shrugged my shoulders and avoided talking about it. My career plans were set almost a year ago: I’ll be moving to North Carolina in July. But as for the six months between finishing up school in December and embarking on that move down south – I wasn’t really sure.

Well, now I get to announce a change in that – I’m heading off to Ireland for seven weeks!

Those of you who follow my Casstastrophes may recall a quick gloss-over reference to a very stressful trip I took to Dublin last summer. Have no fear; I love that part of the world so much that even that experience couldn’t dissuade me from returning. I’ll be, as the kids say, WWOOFing in Ireland for a little while. What does that mean, you may ask? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFing is agreeing to be a volunteer on one of those farms in exchange for room and board.

Caveat: my personal experience will be a little different from what you might be envisioning after reading the word ‘farm.’ I’m actually headed off to help out on the gardening team of an estate in County Cork.

Every time I travel, I’m never sure about how the internet and modern technology situation will translate so I may or may not be able to maintain this blog while abroad. I’ll try my darned best and if I can’t, well you’ll have that much more to look forward to when I return!

So. Many. Voyages.

A Hometown Holiday [@NewportRI]

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Iconic Giraffe Tree Makes Fashion Statement – Newport Daily News headline, probably

Sitting by the fire playing board games. Curled up on the couch watching movies. Waking up groggy after late night wrapping to greet anticipating little ones at 6am. Christmas passes differently for every family. Mine happens to be on the busier side of life, with a lot of time spent in the car traveling to visit pretty much every relative we realistically can. But according to the song it’s the holiday season, not just the day, that warrants celebration.

22 years of my life have been spent calling Newport my hometown, but I never take advantage of appreciating it during the holiday season. Being away at college means I miss out on a lot of that festive time at home. We pick out our tree right after Thanksgiving and I don’t see it again until after finals. But some of Newport’s best spots are right at my neighborhood’s fingertips – in the downtown area – so this year I decided to spend a little bit of time walking around this wonderful City by the Sea to gaze upon my favorite December decorations.

I’m no professional photographer, but I wanted to share these spots with you in hopes that they inspire two particular things: 1) you’ll want to come visit this beautiful little seaside haunt next Christmas season and/or 2) that you’ll go out on adventures to appreciate your own hometown holidays.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Newport Wharfs get a lot of twinkle light bling around shop windows for Christmas. Not to mention an abundance of trees inside of said windows.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Everything is prettier with a wreath! – Winston Churchill, probably

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

The entirety of December features garnished boats floating around the harbors – a particular specialty of a seaside Christmas.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Even our docks get decorated. This one at the end of Bannister’s Wharf houses one brave against the waves Christmas Tree.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Only in Newport would a giant mast serve as a better decoration than a giant tree. My vote is to keep it lit all year round.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

A dockside skating rink which I’m very glad was brought back for the townspeople to enjoy this year. Plenty of wonderful memories spent teaching my little brother how to skate down here.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

The wave is an iconic Newport monument and if you look closely you’ll see two snuggly feet poking out of it.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

America’s Cup meets Thames Street

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

If you ask me – the mansions on Bellevue need a little more Clark Griswold to them. The Elms was the best decorated in my personal, professional, and holiday emotional opinion.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Hometown Hometree

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Newport Bridge – the best Christmas lights of them all

To you and yours – have a blessed (in any way, shape, or form) Happy Holidays and keep love in your hearts. Looking forward to sharing more Tales of Casstastrophe with you in 2016!

Voyages: Kancamagus Highway [@NewHampshire]

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

It was Christmas Day. 2006. I unwrapped a gift from a dear aunt of mine and found a framed picture of a sign for a highway called Kancamagus. My fascination with this mountainous region of New Hampshire developed a few months prior, when I forced her to take the very picture I held in my hand. Fast forward to the present day and that framed picture is hanging just above me where I sit writing this, on the wall of my college dorm room.

Those middle years saw my fascination grow beyond the name (which apparently has been incorrectly pronounced by my family as Kangamangus – I know, sounds way cooler so I’m keeping it). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn’t remember ever spending real time in the natural surroundings of the Kancamagus Highway, even though we drove up and down it a lot throughout my childhood. Now, not remembering it isn’t saying that it never happened (my memory is absolutely terrible), but still – I only had the faintest recalls of those car rides. Naturally, adolescent Cassie was too busy with her Game Boy and books in the backseat to admire the outdoors.

With my impending move down south, I’ve become increasingly aware of the fact that my time with having all of New England at my fingertips is running out. The White Mountains region that holds the sign in the photograph deserved a respectful send-off, full of admiration and devoid of Pokemon Sapphire Version.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

A beautiful cloudscape greeted me outside my bedroom window on the day of my journey, which made waking up at the early hour a little more tolerable.

My hometown by the sea is stunning in those A.M. single digits. When I left first thing, I had a difficult time keeping my eyes on the New Hampshire prize instead of on the beckoning beach.

The rain started shortly after I crossed the border into Massachusetts and my windshield wasn’t the only thing it dampened. Despite the amazingly bad old mixed CDs I haven’t listened to since high school (Track 1 – Drake, Track 2 – Phil Collins, Track 3 – Marky Mark, Track 4 – 3OH!3… case all the way closed), the weather really bummed me out. As the drops grew heavier, I started to feel more discouraged about my adventures.

Crossing the border into New Hampshire lifted the rainfall and my spirits with the anticipation of seeing mountains. I wouldn’t call myself outdoorsy, but I love being outside and I’m awed as heck by nature – especially mountains. My body has this natural response to being close to them that my best friend and I jokingly refer to as a vibe. That vibe gives me such an energy that I feel like I could Fred Flintstone my way up to the nearest peak.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Naturally, visiting White Mountain Coffee in the capital city of Concord, NH motivated me to spend some time in the namesake region.

One of the highlights of this journey was navigating myself up to Concord without a GPS (isn’t it sad that doing something without the assistance of technology is so exciting to me?) Try it out next time you take a relatively short distance trip. Instead of being concerned with how many miles are left until the Garmin gives you a reminder of the next step in the directions, pay better attention to the road signs. It’s one of those circumstances that literally allows you to focus on the journey rather than the destination.

With my newfound attention to signage came seeing the names of other places that sounded interesting enough to make me want to come back and visit them some day. Most notably, I passed a sign for a Robert Frost Farm somewhere along I-93 and got so instinctually excited that I almost swerved my little blue VW off-road. Maybe I need to start planning a landmarks-of-authors-inspired-by-New-England voyage?

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

A wild beetle appeared between the trees. My trusty companion, Linus, hasn’t had a trip like this in ages. I think his emerging-from-hibernation engine loved cruising the long winding roads more than I did.

Upon arrival in Lincoln, NH I made the game plan to drive straight along the whole thing first and make mental notes of places to stop on my way back. That lasted for all of 5 minutes until I noticed what felt like a familiar roadside inlet. Kancamagus Highway is peppered with stop-off points, ranging from actual National Park areas for picnics or hiking trails to a few yards of dirt and gravel that have been habitually worn down thanks to dozens of others noticing the not so organized and official opportunities. Since my “drive first, stop later” plan completely fell to bits I found myself wishing I had allocated more time to explore. I only spent a moment or so in every place I pulled over before jumping back into the car and continuing on my way.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

My boots were not conducive to any sort of hiking – but I’m happy to say I emerged with only a handful of minor stumbles over tree roots.

As far as foliage viewing is concerned, my arrival to the White Mountains was inopportune. A month or so earlier and I probably would have seen the trees in all their golden glory. Instead, I was there for the in-between phase. Most of the trees were skeletal, with the exception of the conifers (I have absolutely no idea which kind of conifer they were so go right ahead and skip over that question). Deadened leaves lay dried out at my feet, swept into piles which I took the happy advantage of stomping through as I trekked down paths and trails. The silence of the forest felt like it was holding it’s breath in anticipation of the first major frost to welcome it into winter.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Love me some birch and conifers! Likely because those are two of the maybe seven, on a good day, tree-related words I know.

Although the upper trails provided almost complete silence among the mountaintops, the first thing I noticed every time I threw open my door on the lower stretches of the highway was the sound of water on the move. It’s like a homing beacon, making me that much more excited to rush down the leaf-covered slopes to get to the banks. Earlier in the day, I’ll admit I thought about dipping my hands in but couldn’t find any good rocks while I was still bold enough to face that temperature change. Later on, when I got to the better shores, I was much too cold for that.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

I hopped in and out of the car so frequently that sometimes I hadn’t fully warmed up yet by the time I reached the next stopping point, so my heaters and I admired the scenery from inside.

The best part about this highway is that it starts you low and it seems like a gradual climb until suddenly you round a few curves and you’re on top of the world, looking out to all the neighboring peaks before it winds you back down to the river. That middle mountaintop stretch gets you to Kancamagus Pass, which I’m gonna go ahead and infer to be the highest point of the highway at an elevation of 2,855 ft. It’s all downhill, or rather downmountain, from there.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

You never really knew what you’d find at the end of the trails leading off the roadside. Sometimes they wound too far into the forest for me to follow and sometimes they led me right back to my favorite banks.

Speaking of downmountain, I’ve got a theory. On the western stretch of the Kancamagus you’ve got a dozen little branches and brooks that feed water down from the mountains but for the most part you’re next to Swift River. Standing on the shores and hearing the rush of the water felt like listening to the culmination of a thousand ancient voices. One can only imagine the amount of people who come to these very banks and spill their secrets, whether in conversation with friends and family or to the rocks and ripples themselves. Those words are then carried downstream and hushed back at other visitors, who can’t quite decode them from the language of the river.

Spending time on these banks were the parts of the day I had to heartbreakingly tear myself away from. This river has been listening for many years before I came into the world and it’s going to be listening for many years after I leave it. I’ll be back when I’ve got some better stories to tell.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Mountains stretching above the clouds is a sight of sights. Makes me miss the floor clouds of South Africa.

As I drove the morning away, I watched the little snowflake symbol appear in the corner of the temperature gauge on my dashboard – which dropped into the mid-thirties. Every time I stepped outside I could feel the actual nip of the air on the tips of my fingers and nose, no doubt worsened by having the heat on full blast in the car. Even though my chest was covered in multiple layers, it didn’t matter because this wasn’t that type of chill. It didn’t care to raise goosebumps on my skin; it bit into my bones. Encountering this kind of cold that works from the inside out isn’t something that happens often for me but I could read what it was trying to tell me: that it was only a matter of time. The air had a certain smell to it, a certain feeling that every New Englander is born knowing – the harbinger of snow.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Again, you never knew what you’d find once you pulled off to the side of the road. I was a big fan of the stairs that led me right back down to…

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

… the river!

The Conway side of the road signaled the end of the highway, and thus my turning back point. As I started the return journey to Lincoln, the 3 ft tall metal reflector poles that line the roadside caught my eye. Large sticks, probably over 6 ft in height, were tied to the tops of each metal pole. “For what possible reason?” I thought to myself. To be honest, the sticks had an eery Blair Witch Project feel to them, but after a few more miles it hit me that maybe, just maybe, they get over 3 ft of snow in these parts and so the sticks are there as a backup for drifts so drivers can still see the edge of the road!

Couple this new knowledge of the sticks with the feeling of the cool air and you’ve got a me driving back wide-eyed, anxiously hoping against hope to see a few flakes fall from the sky before I leave. Spoiler: I didn’t.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

A terribly upsetting sign to see.

Coming home for Thanksgiving break meant time with family, but also time for more of those wonderfully introspective moments. As I said in the beginning of this post, I’ve become more aware of my very short time left in this part of the country. Those childhood memories deserve a chase or two while they’re only a short drive away. The Atlantic Ocean is home to me and I doubt I’ll ever find a place I love more than by it’s side – but isn’t life all about finding the places you want to be in, and the people you want to be with? Is that not why we travel?

It’s why I do.

To England, With Love: A Send-Off To Summer [@CambridgeUK]

“And then she recalled weeks that had flown past and afternoons that had lasted for ever. Some minutes had lasted hours, some hours had gone past so quickly she hadn’t been aware they’d gone past at all…”

Isn’t it devastatingly wonderful when a passage from a book seems to capture your life so perfectly? Thanks for that, Terry Pratchett.

By now I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about my time in England. “We get it! You were @CambridgeUK! Move on!” Have patience my dears, that is exactly what I’m trying to do here! But there is this little thing called closure and I’d very much like to try it out. You’ve already seen posts about my wonderful experiences, now I want you to see one about what I took away from them. I think we can all agree that as we live our lives and experience new places and people and things, we are influenced to change ourselves. We want to remember the little lessons we learned so we can incorporate them in our daily lives and hopefully pass them on to others.

To England, here are some of the things you influenced in me, I’ll try my best to pass them on, with love.

Blue Doors

They’re everywhere! It has been a long summer of back and forth between deciding whether or not to Google the meaning behind blue doors in the UK (you’ll be happy to know that I’ve finally settled on not to) because everyone seems to have one. There must have been hundreds that my eyes stumbled across throughout my travels in England, Scotland, and Ireland. My own accommodation in Cambridge had a beautiful blue door (pictured above) as did every other house on Fitzwilliam Street. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of them. There is such a homey, welcoming vibe to blue doors. They remind me of the pineapple symbol in Newport. I felt like if I walked up and chapped on a random blue door, I’d be ushered inside and offered tea and cakes and a fascinating life story. There is just something so truly magnificent about them, I love them, I can’t wait to have one.

Appreciating My Surroundings

It’s easy to get caught up in a beautiful place when you’ve been told two dozen times that it’s beautiful. It’s a whole other matter to decide all on your own that you find your surroundings beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard not to appreciate King’s College for what it is – but there were also so many other tiny side streets along the edge of the River Cam or groupings of trees on the grounds of ancient estates in the countryside that felt infinitely more beautiful to me. A lot of other students chose to visit other cities on the weekend because they were on a quest to see something fantastic – they wanted the Sistine Chapel and the Eiffel Tower and the Remnants of the Berlin Wall. Which is totally fine! Do it while you can, I get that. But don’t disregard the seemingly insignificant places either. Surroundings mean more than just settings, too. It’s an incredible feeling to notice how genuinely gorgeous your friends’ smiles are, or the twinkle of a strangers eye when you make small talk with them. Don’t forget to appreciate where you are when you’re there. Take it in, smile and laugh to yourself, smile and laugh to others. Be there.

Tea Time

There’s a reason this rhymes with “Me Time.” Most mornings I followed the routine of waking up early, packing up my laptop, and heading round the corner to a nearby cafe for tea and toast. It helped me to ease into my day. Some mornings would be spent writing emails to my two best friends back in the States, some spent reading a book or an article for class. Sometimes I’d just cruise the internet for a bit. No matter what, I took the time to start the day off with me, myself, and I. That’s important. Refresh yourself before you jump in to life with others. Find a time of the day you want to give to yourself, even if its just for a quick cuppa.


In the same way that Me Time is important, social time with a really great group of people is just as high up there on the list. Every Tuesday, myself and four other wonderful darling beautiful women would take some time to go get a drink or two. We’d chat, we’d laugh (mostly to tears), we’d play, we’d tell stories, we’d get into all sorts of trouble. I relied on this day of the week because I knew that it would be a break from the bubble – I’d be away from classes and schoolwork and other students in favor of enjoying the little nooks of Cambridge pubs with incredible friends. The time we spent together was always on the lighter side. No one got into deep, existential conversations. We just made ourselves happy. That’s it. Tuesdays were pure happiness and I will forever cherish them. I hope to continue the spirit of Brewsday for a long, long while no matter where I end up in the world.

Provoking of Thoughts

Thought provoking discussions are all well and good but I like being talked at every now and then too. I especially like being talked at about really cool things I find genuinely interesting. I especially, ESPECIALLY like being talked at about really cool things I find genuinely interesting by really cool people who are genuinely interested in what they’re talking about! What I’m trying to say here is I loved my class lectures. I loved attending the additional plenary lectures (aka basically learning for fun since nothing required us to be there). I loved listening to my friends tell me stories about the experiences they’ve had in their lives or what they find fascinating. Being talked at creates the perfect atmosphere for introspection, which I crave more and more every day. Provoke your own thoughts instead of focusing so much on other peoples.

Being Comfortable With Yourself

This feels a little like a cheating point because duh! Everyone says that! Every person on the planet talks about how crucial it is to “Be You” but not everyone actually listens to those people. I like to think that at the ripe old age of 22, I’m pretty comfortable with the person I am. And more than that, I’m happy with the person I am. I wear my bright yellow Star Trek shirt around Dublin, a trip which I took all by lonesome to begin with, because I love it. Sometimes I still carry around a stick and pretend its a wand. I laugh at myself! I think that I’m hilarious because I crack me up, which is pretty important. I got comfortable with all of this over the summer and learned: Be You because You make You happy! Figure out what it is about yourself that makes you smile. I know that’s not easy to do, and that’s okay. You don’t have to do it right this second. But know that there are people out there in this world who will also smile at that thing and if you haven’t found them yet keep on moving until you do. And if you don’t ever find them, even better – you’re too cool for the rest of us anyways.


Sure, I ran into the odd Brit or two who seemed to have all the wrong opinions about Americans, but I avoided them as best I could and rejoiced in the dozens of other nice people I came across in the UK. I don’t think I’ve ever really spent time thinking about what it means to be hospitable and how it goes beyond just being friendly and welcoming. There is also a part of it, which the people of the UK really excelled at, that asks you to be unboundedly helpful. While writing this I attempted to provide some examples, but that could make up a whole other post in itself (it won’t – I won’t subject you to that – but it could). What I took away from all those people is that community is not just the place where you live, it’s the way you treat the people you’re surrounded by – and that means treating your neighbor of 5 years the same as the passerby American girl here for 3 days. Hospitality is important, being kind to one another is important, and realizing that a helpful act no matter how small can absolutely change someones day is the most important of all.

Voyages: Scotland’s National Book Town [@WigtownUK]

One evening in the beginning of the summer, on a bus back from London, I got into a conversation with a friend of mine about books. It wasn’t long before we discovered our mutual adoration for second-hand shops and she said to me “Oh, you absolutely have to go to Wigtown!”

Now, I’ll be honest. I’m not one to take other people’s suggestions for these types of things. I get instantly skeptical and usually just nod and smile and think to myself “I absolutely have to go where I want to go, thank you very much” (but that’s because I’m inherently a grumpy old witch just waiting to retire to my creaky house on the hill). But I took the bait. I listened as my now very dear friend told me more and more about Scotland’s National Book Town and by the time we got back to Cambridge she had convinced me. I resolved that at the end of August I would make a voyage out of Wigtown.

Day One

Getting to Wigtown is not easy. It’s in a southern region of Scotland (think way southern, like practically England southern) known as Dumfries and Galloway. To get there you have to take a train, or as I found sometimes two, and two buses. I like adventure and all but no way was I going to drive myself there. So a family friend dropped me off at Glasgow Central at 9am and I set off on a train with no more than 15 people on it for a little town called Barrhill.

According to Google Maps this was called ‘Cross Water.’ It feeds into the Duisk River. Don’t ask me how to pronounce that.

When I say ‘little’ I am not exaggerating. This place was a 10-house town and I was the only one getting off the train for it. Thankfully the people in the UK are very nice and willing to help an American girl who is clearly far from home and her mind for coming to a place like this. With some direction from the locals, I stumbled my way down a winding abandoned road to get in to the village and find my bus stop. I had quite some time to wait before the bus actually came so I sat next to a little burn (aka stream) to bide my time with reading and laughing at the overall hilarity of this journey. I had never been to a smaller town in my entire life, and here I was doing it for the first time all on my own. I kind of wished I had a travel buddy so we could walk around saying “Are you seeing this???” to each other – but I’ll settle for having you, my dear reader.

The views from the bus rides were unreal. My neck hurt from swiveling back and forth the whole time to take it all in.

The bus to Newton Stewart finally arrived and I boarded to find I was only the second passenger. It remained that way for the next 45 minutes in to town. The driver and elderly woman (passenger #1) chatted away while I sat laughing to myself in the corner. Seriously! I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Once I got to Newtown Stewart it was just a switch over to the final bus that carried me on to Wigtown (there were a total of 3(!) people on this one).

Upon arrival in the National Book Town, I took advantage of the unusually beautiful Scottish weather and went out to walk around a bit. I could tell that this was the type of place most people could crush through in a quick day trip, which meant it would be perfect for my leisurely exploration over the next two days. Huge emphasis on the leisurely.

Note: this voyage was by no means meant to be action packed. I was there to shop for books, yes so action-filled, but also to relax and recharge and have time to myself before heading off to America and thus back to school. I needed a few days to laze around as much as my little heart desired so what I’m trying to say here is don’t expect any pictures of cliff-jumping in this post. Okay, back to it.

Day Two

Rolled out of bed late Tuesday morning and decided I deserved some cake for breakfast. After stopping by one of the darling little cafes, I hit up my first bookshop right across the street.

I discovered The Open Book was run by a woman from Lexington, Massachusetts! Imagine my surprise, you can’t, at finding a person from my home region tucked into the middle-of-nowhere, Scotland. We chatted for a bit about how to combine my soon-to-be-had Finance degree with the wonderful world of publishing. Scored a few books here and then decided on the brilliant idea to make the walk a mile out of town to visit the Bladnoch Distillery and a sci-fi/fantasy bookshop.

Desperately wanted to steal this sign, but I’ll settle for moving back to live on this road.

Unfortunately, I found both were closed down but it wasn’t for nothing. I had quite the time walking out on the thinest sidewalks I’d ever seen and back on no sidewalks at all. I took two different roads there and back – both of which were very fast-going highway type things on which I happened to be the only foot traveller… more laughing to myself ensued.

River Bladnoch

After I made it back into town without being mowed down by a cattle truck, I stopped for some lunch to reenergize for the rest of my bookshop tour. This was where the serious shopping began. I strolled my way through seven different second-hand shops throughout the course of the day and ended up splayed across my bed clutching my new books with tears of joy. Then I crawled into bed to watch Coronation Street reruns, my fave.

Reading Lasses makes the best mac & cheese AND trivia team name.

Byre Books was tucked down this hugely overgrown path. Made me feel like I was walking right into a fairytale.

The Book Shop – the largest bookshop in Scotland! The place went on and on with dozens of book-packed rooms. Could have spent eternities here. The quote over the fireplace made me laugh: “Give a man fire and he’s warm for the day. But set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” – Terry Pratchett

Day Three

On my pack-up-and-go-home day I started to feel the weight of the fact that I had been abroad for 2 whole months and the travel ahead of me back to Glasgow wasn’t even the last I had to do before I could finally settle in and stop moving about for a while. In fact, my trip home to the States wasn’t even going to be the end of it. My exhaustion at the mere thought of all this coaxed me into spending my morning reading and drinking tea and eating scones – which I tried for the first time on this trip and learned that I LOVE! Why don’t people eat more scones?

So many things about this postcard are my favorite and I practically fainted after reading it. Counting down the days until Autumn hits and its time to go back to Salem.

All of my traveling directions were written on the backs of little slips of paper with the names and addresses of all my relatives in Scotland on them. Guess who left those directions at Reading Lasses when I finally accepted the fact that my trip was over and it was time to head out for the bus? To revisit that whole nice-people-in-the-UK point, one of the waitresses tracked me down at the bus stop and gave the papers back to me just before I realized they were gone. Those trusty little slips of paper got me pretty far! Who says you need a Google-Maps-equipped-cellphone to have a good time?

The travel back to Glasgow felt long and exhausting but when I finally stumbled off the train with a backpack full of books and pockets full of mint humbugs, into the arms of my beloved family friends, it finally hit me that my time in the UK was officially up. My study abroad in Cambridge had finished, my adventures off in the lowlands of Scotland were done, and it was time to finally go home.

Couldn’t help but sing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with a view like this on the walk back up to the Barrhill train station.

Thankfully, I had a beautifully illustrated copy of Wuthering Heights and the fondest of memories of my summer voyages to keep me company on the trek.

Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, And An English Barrister Walk Into A Bar… [@CambridgeUK]

A beautiful stained glass window in the Museum of London. “Dieu et Mon Droit” is the motto of the United Kingdom outside of Scotland.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m doing more than just drinking over here in lovely Cambridge, England. As my last post informed you, I’ve been participating in the Pembroke-King’s Programme at the University of Cambridge this summer. Yes, I’ll admit that I prefer spending my time running around with my friends on Brewsday Tuesday and playing Quidditch and having movie nights but I’m here first and foremost for academics apparently.

At my home university, I’m a Finance major by day and also still a Finance major by night. However, I had a few elective courses that I had to clear in order to graduate this Winter (don’t want to talk about it yet, still not ready). I decided rather than stay in Boston for the summer, why not take a look at some study abroad programs with interesting non-Finance classes? And so here I am! Studying three wicked cool subjects! And having the absolute time of my life! So check out what I learned about!

Jane Austen: Life, Times, Works

I haven’t taken a real English class since high school and my brain was desperately in need of some literary critical thinking. This class was actually the deciding factor in my coming to Cambridge, if I’m being completely honest. Like most other people in the world, Jane Austen is my Held Most Ardently heroine. Her books were some of the earliest I remember reading and they’ve certainly played a huge part in sculpting my love for literature. I came into this class having read all the major novels but desperately in need of a forum to discuss them.

Most of what I learned in this class had to do with the context of the time in which these beloved works were based and written. Austen grew up and started writing during a period of national turmoil and recovery, most of which stemmed from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and the OM² (“Original Mad Monarch” … any Targaryen fans in the house?) George III and that other guy George IV. A lot of her work was satirical and I never really understood the extent of that until I got to talk about it in depth here. I also wrote my final paper on the symbolism of mud, so I had a freaking GREAT time exercising my brain in this class. Oh, yeah – and there’s that time when my professor took us to the King’s Library where I got to exist as a person within INCHES of JANE AUSTEN’S LAST MANUSCRIPT. I SAW THE HANDWRITTEN UNFINISHED CHAPTERS OF Sanditon WITH MY OWN EYES! CAN YOU TELL I WAS SEVERELY AND PERMANENTLY AFFECTED BY THIS MOMENT?

Also – I don’t care what anyone says, I will rep the Joe Wright Pride & Prejudice adaptation until the day that I die. Keira Knightley (200)5eva.

Introduction to English Common Law

Law has been a personal interest of mine since the good ol’ glory days of high school mock trial. American citizens don’t always realize just how differently the rest of the world treats a judicial system, so I thought it would be interesting to see what ours was derived from. My class even took a field-trip to the Crown Courts so I could see a trial in action and really get the feel of how it works over here. The English Common Law system is so fascinating because its basically been around in some kind of form since the 800s, which means that England has a hell ton of precedents.

Fun fact: England does not have a stand-alone constitutional document outlining the rights of their people. Because they’re so old, they’ve got dozens (if not hundreds) of separate laws and documents and dusty tomes which together make up their fundamental Constitution. I’m sure there is a much more technical, jargon-laden way of saying that but all that I’m really trying to communicate here is: you crazy, England. If you really wanna sift through all that, I guess keep doing you. That’s exactly the type of thing that creates such an interpretive nature of practice in the English Common Law system, which in turn made for some equally stimulating and frustrating conversations in my seminar classes. Morality is a hard thing to use in defining rules sometimes.

The biggest thing I got from this class is actually more of a personal life revelation. I had always kept law school in the back of my mind as something to do after undergrad, but now I’m crossing that off the list with complete certainty. Apparently practicing law is not actually comparable to writing really witty closing statements (see above: mock trial glory days). I would hate going through those kinds of classes for 3 years so I’m just going to keep it as an area of intellectual interest (or something). The style of learning just isn’t for me. Whether this personal discovery is unfortunate or fortunate, I can’t say. But, ahem, if anyone is looking for an LSAT prep book I’ve got one you can have…

Literary London: the Narratives, Characters and (Sub)Cultures of the British Metropolis

I wasn’t even supposed to be in this class! I had originally registered for a class on British Sports but unfortunately the professor teaching it fell ill and the class was cancelled before it began. I had to choose another to take its place but most other options were politically or scientifically oriented and I can’t think of anything in the world that would have made me more miserable. Thankfully, ‘Literary London’ was there to save the day.

Not only has the professor for this class become my personal hero (he read Bleak House in a week), but thanks to him I’ve gotten exposure to centuries of inspired-by-London authors such as Ben Jonson, John Gay, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, and Elizabeth Bowen. Early on in the course we took a field-trip to Smithfield and the Museum of London, where I took the cover picture for this post – I thought it was a nice little interdisciplinary artifact since “Dieu et Mon Droit” was also displayed in the court room I visited for Intro to English Common Law. Very proud of myself for retaining information and making that connection at the museum.

The scope of what we talked about in Literary London spanned everything from the Roman establishment of the city to the origins of what it means to “double-cross” someone to the effects of The Blitz and how all of those (and more) influenced these popular authors. And I’ve still got a week left of this class…

I don’t think I can physically communicate to you how happy I am with my decision to come to Cambridge and give myself a break from the at-times-overly-mundane world of business administration. I spent my summer taking classes on subjects I have a genuine interest in and passion for, I met and had conversations with some of the brightest students from all over the world, and I got to see a f*cking Jane Austen manuscript (still tears, never gonna stop). Forever thankful for this experience. Can’t wait to come back to you with all my new friends and reminisce some day, Cambridge.