One of my favorite things about visiting new places is the scent. Elba Island smells like basil and jasmine. Downtown Vicenza is espresso and brioche. Salzburg is wood smoke and coffee. Istanbul is pipe smoke and spices. Yes, there’s some stench, too, but I prefer to focus upon the good. Based on this fact, it’s probably not surprising that one of the destinations topping my to-do list in France was Fragonard Parfumeur. I’ll be totally up front and tell you that the kids hated it. Eddie wound up taking them out to play near the giant tree out front before we made it halfway. I, on the other hand, had a great time and actually learned so much about fragrance.
I’m fairly confident in my fashion sense. I know what I like; I know what looks good on my figure; I know what’s in (and, more importantly, out) of style. I have to admit, however, that today’s agenda gave me a little wardrobe stress. Dressing for a fashion trade show in Italy on a commoner’s budget is not for the fainthearted. That’s squarely where I found myself this morning as I got ready for Origin: Passions and Beliefs in Vicenza. This trade show puts Italian suppliers together with artists, designers, buyers, and fashionphiles from around the world together in one convenient location. Continue reading
I have a love/hate relationship with the map you can access on the seatback TV screen during international flights. It is nice to track your progress, but on eight, ten, twelve (or more)-hour flights, it becomes maddening. Really? We haven’t crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean yet?? As I watched us close in on Italy last May, I began seeing Ljubljana just east. I’ll admit that I had no idea how to pronounce it (Loob-lee-yahn-yuh is pretty close) and I really didn’t know where it was. Fast forward a few days. I looked over the Army MWR calendar and saw a scheduled trip to (you guessed it) Ljubljana, Slovenia. I booked all four of us because…why not? Continue reading
One thing Eddie and I have embraced since moving the family to Italy is the importance of giving our family experiences instead of things. Maybe we’re spoilers at heart or maybe it’s a side effect of being old parents, but we’ve always given our kids more than they ever needed. Without closets, you really see how much crap you’ve amassed. The beauty of an experience is its lasting effects. Neither of the kids remember what they got just a few months ago at Christmas. The 6-year-old does, however, look back at her pictures and talk about visiting Ephesus in Turkey and seeing the giant Christmas tower in Heidelberg. This will be a part of her much longer than the 10th Monster High doll.
Last Sunday, we decided to visit a spot close to home for one of our “experiences.” To fully appreciate this story, I need to set the scene for you. As we parked along a treelined side road and opened our doors, Garth Brooks–loud and proud–boomed into our ears. Nearly simultaneously, the strong scent of summer hay wafted into our faces. A few paces further, we heard the soft thumping of horse hooves and a whinny. Finally–the piece de resistance–a huge Wrangler banner came into view. Back where I come from, this is just another day. In the middle of the Veneto Region of Italy? It was pretty surreal but this is Ropes Ranch.
Tucked between the Autostrada and farmland in Grisignano di Zocco (VI), Ropes Ranch is a small but well-equipped place for casual riding and riding lessons. Honestly, it had been on our to-visit list for quite sometime but we had never taken the time to just go. They were opening the ranch that day for rides, food, and early camp sign up. The minute we signed Zoey up for summer horse camp, Denis (the owner, who speaks fluent English…bonus!), handed cute cowboy hats over to each of my girls. He couldn’t have delighted them more if he’d handed over gold ingots. The staff graciously let the kids have the run of the ranch, peeking at the new foal, watching the calves, and taking guided rides on Nacho, the most patient American Quarter Horse that I have ever seen.
I am absolutely clueless about such things as horseback riding lessons, though I have been told they’re expensive back in the states. They’re more than reasonable and budget-friendly here. The one-on-one lessons at Ropes Ranch are $15 per hour-long session while lessons for younger kids run 30 minutes and ring it at around $10. The staff offer lessons on weekday mornings and afternoons, then all day on weekends.
Zoey has her first lesson tomorrow morning, then camp begins when school is out for the summer. I’m even considering some lessons. There are some great-sounding horseback riding tours around local wineries here from time to time. I suppose I should be solid on horseback before trying to sample vino while riding.
If you’re new to the Vicenza community, the easiest way to get in touch with Denis and the ranch is through their ASD Ropes Ranch Facebook page.
Just to get new readers up to speed: I began the Conscious Closet Challenge sponsored by grechenscloset.com midweek last week. I pared down to what I would’ve once called a minimalist closet last year but I’m ready to edit down even more. You can read more about it in my initial article here.
As I write, I have a huge stack of clothes to donate. I feel like this is a really great time to be working through my thoughts and feelings about clothing–and possessions–in general. This challenge didn’t exactly start this process but it was my incentive to actually sit down and create a list of Dos and Don’ts to follow. I think this topic will spin off in a number of directions but I wanted to just create a simple update of some things I’ve learned. Continue reading
One year ago, a major move from Texas to Italy forced me to create a minimalist wardrobe. The final tally included donating and/or selling nearly 60 pairs of shoes and about 90% of my clothing. Since moving into our Italian home (no closets…gasp), I’ve come to the realization that I needed to get rid of much more. The makeshift wardrobes and racks are full. Earlier in the week, Grechen from grechenscloset.com–one of my longtime favorite blogs–announced a Conscious Wardrobe Challenge. Grechen is very focused upon building a minimalist wardrobe with U.S.-made pieces. Living in the land of Italian fashion, buying American is nice but not a goal for the next couple of years. That being said, I would like to be a little more informed about where my clothing, shoes, and accessories originate. One thing I learned quickly while living here, a “made in Italy” label like we find so often on high-dollar goods in the U.S. doesn’t always mean you are getting a product sourced 100% from Italy. It has been very eye-opening.
Sometimes travel can be a series of crapshoots. As we found out during our trip to Skerries, all the great reviews in the world can still net you some cruddy experiences. County Clare Ireland was nothing but fabulous from start to finish, I am happy to say. Through a series of Google searches, I found that many Irish venues offered Easter weekend events for families. The two-day Craggaunowen and Bunratty Folk Park ticket sounded perfect, so we searched for nearby lodging. Another search brought me to Cahergal Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast. The reviews were great, Google Maps showed me it was close to both venues, and their website mentioned that they offered horseback riding (a major draw for my 6-year-old).
To fully appreciate how good this part of the trip was, you have to know that (1) I typically hate bed & breakfast lodgings and (2) high-end department stores are my thing, not working farms. We landed in Dublin early on a Saturday morning, moved our suitcases into a Citroen Berlingo (the horror at first), then shot off west to the farm.
Cahergal Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast
Owned by Michael and Noreen McInerney, Cahergal is a 100-acre working horse, sheep, and cattle farm located in the heart of Newmarket-on-Fergus. They literally don’t have an address. We used Google Maps to get close, then followed signs to the tree-lined drive. Noreen greeted us with brown scones coated with creamy butter and jam, as well as a pot of hot tea. Our room was roomy and comfortable; the bathroom shower was consistently hot with decent pressure. When showing us the room, Noreen mentioned that the master bed was a queen. Honestly, it was closer to the size of our king at home. Little Harper co-sleeps with us most of the time, so we had plenty of room for 2 1/2 in the big bed. Zoey’s twin bed was termed a cot but it was also extremely comfortable. Honestly, though, the farm itself was the star of the show. Even in early April, the grass was emerald green and dotted with beds of yellow daffodils. Just driving onto the property, we heard cows moo-ing. It was just quintessentially Ireland.
Being spring, baby animals were a fixture at Cahergal. Michael was so kind to let us bring both girls out to the barns. It was almost comical how unprepared I was. I literally walked into a barn stall with over-the-knee boots and a leopard coat. I promise that I’m not usually that…I know there’s some derogatory term to describe that. I was timid; we brought two boisterous girls into a stall with five delicate newborn sheep. Michael, on the other hand, took one look at Zoey and started filling her arms with warm, wooly lamb. As I watched her fumble, I went into total panic mode. Not Michael. He started folding that baby up into her arms and told me loudly “No worrying. Take pictures.” Next up was the side of the barn with pregnant cows moo-ing for their breakfast. Michael handed Zoey a pitchfork (inciting fear in my heart) and showed her how to rake silage toward the eager mouths of five hungry post-partum cows, two pregnant cows, and one really eager new bull. Even when she nearly poked the pitchfork into a soft nose, Michael was totally cool.
On another day, one of Noreen and Michael’s adult sons took all the guests on a trek though the fields. The sheep and cows wanted to keep their space…especially from the eager 6-year-old, yet this was so much fun. Noreen took pity on me and gave me her boots to wear through the field so I wouldn’t sully my poor choice of packed footwear. It was just such a great experience. None of us were ready to go on a real horseback ride but Zoey was allowed to take a short escorted ride on one of the farm’s horses. Again, Noreen’s son kindly took her on this “ride,” which absolutely thrilled her.
And after all this, I’ve neglected to talk about the “breakfast” part of bed and breakfast. I’m by no means a vegetarian but bacon and sausage and ham and eggs…not my speed. I figured “when in Ireland…” and just decided to eat what Noreen cooked. (She did provide a wide array of cereals and breads, too.) My traditional Irish breakfast included a fried egg, two slices of bacon (what we called country ham back in Missouri), two sausage links, white and black pudding, and toast. I tried it all. That Noreen…she’s a great cook. Admittedly, I was most drawn to her pumpkin seed brown soda bread but…BUT…I actually liked all of it. The black pudding (made of congealed blood) was a little too much for me to wrap my head around. I did taste it but left it at that. The white pudding was awesome. I wound up eating an Irish breakfast each morning that we were there, then found that no one’s breakfast compared to Noreen’s after we left.
Cahergal was such a great experience, I felt it was worthy of an entire post. Check back for more on our trip to County Clare Ireland. And if you want to make reservations with Noreen and Michael, make sure you visit their site: cahergal.com.
So…Skerries Ireland. Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I. We were looking for one more place to visit before flying back to Italy, read about the Skerries Windmills, and decided that was as good a place as any. Skerries is a seaside village just outside of Dublin. We had a rental car and drove it in about half an hour, but I have heard it’s quite easy to get public transportation from Dublin to the Skerries station.
Things to do in Skerries Ireland
After a week in Ireland, this was one of our favorite attractions. Traveling with two very small kids, we were constantly in search of spots that were appealing to adults but kid-friendly. I thought this was an iffy pick; turns out it was perfect. Although I didn’t see any signs of active flour milling, the self-guided tour (€12 for a family) allows you to see the fully-functional mill. Once we made it through the various rooms in the millhouse, the reception person came through and turned on the wheel, allowing us to re-visit the mill’s rooms to see everything in action. Once exiting the mill, visitors are allowed to walk the fields to see the small and large windmills.
After freezing outdoors, it was a real treat to come back to the millhouse for warm drinks at the Watermill Cafe. Although we only chose a pot of tea for ourselves and hot cocoa for our 6-year-old, the cafe served really delicious-looking scones, pastries, and sandwiches. And they do have a liquor license, so Irish coffees are ready to go in seconds.
Especially with a small market outside, there were plenty of opportunities to shop at Skerries Mills. The gift shop had oodles of made-in-Ireland items like pottery, woolens, jewelry, and flour (duh…it’s a flour mill). The market in the courtyard seems to be new. There were very few vendors that Saturday morning but I have a feeling it’s growing based upon the fact that their ramping up their social media efforts.
I love a good castle in ruins. My kids, however, prefer the fully-restored variety. For this reason, we figured Ardgillan Castle was a good bet. As it turned out, they weren’t giving tours of the actual castle that day. We still managed to make the best out of the visit. The tea room is the spot where the tours begin. Since it was lunchtime and tours were out, we decided to grab lunch there. The sitting-rooms-turned-dining-rooms were pretty. The period decor was busy enough to keep the kids entertained–nothing was drab or boring. They had highchairs, too, which was a major bonus. Sans tour, we headed back out to see the grounds. Early spring is probably not the best time to view the walled gardens. There were plenty of blooming flowerbeds but the gardens appeared to be geared toward mid-summer-bloomers. The view of the sea was breathtaking. Perhaps the real winner here, though, was the huge play area. The playground was divided into an area for little ones and an area for big kids. It was perfect for letting the kids run out some energy.
The biggest “bust” of the day was our Bed & Breakfast. Despite its great reviews, it was terrible. The bedroom looked clean enough but the rest of the house was nasty. It was so bad, we paid half a night’s stay to get out of there and booked a room at Maldron Dublin Airport. Maldron was a little overpriced but it’s a 5 minute shuttle to Terminal 2 at the airport. Most importantly, the Maldron was clean.
As a whole, I wouldn’t skip someplace like the Cliffs of Moher or Rock of Cashel for Skerries, but if time permits and you have little ones, Skerries might be worth your time. Especially in the summer months when sea breezes don’t lead to frigid windchills, you could easily spend the day beachcombing.
If you’re traveling to Ireland–especially if you are traveling with kids–check back in the coming days. I will have some other can’t-miss attractions, places, and pubs to discuss. Visit me over on my Facebook page if you have questions or just feel like discussing Skerries Ireland.
I came over to Italy with every intention of documenting our time living in Europe. So far we’ve extensively traveled and have settled into life here, but I haven’t taken any time to document anything. Well, I have obnoxiously photo spammed my Facebook friends with travel shots. The funny thing is that in picking and choosing the “good” photos, I inadvertently led everyone to believe that life as an expat is easy, sophisticated, and perfect. I’m laughing out loud as I type that. You should see my house right now…perfect. Yeah. That’s it. (No, I won’t post a picture of that right now.)
Earlier in the week, I read an article on mpix.com’s blog about Jill Marzion and her Project 365 photo challenge. (Read more about it via the links.) Anyway, I thought it might be fun to participate in the challenge, making my focus something related to the life of an expat in Italy. Some days may feature a jealousy-inducing shot of a day trip to Venice, but I expect most days will offer a glimpse into something that’s mundane here but new and different for the average American. I’ll predominantly post over on my Instagram page. I thought I would kick off my Project 365 with a dedicated blog entry.
So for today, I introduce you to the abomination that is plugging in a dual current electrical device. For the uninitiated, what you’re seeing is a 220v wall plug/light switch combo, a dual-current Chi flat iron in Bubbly Blue (it’s very snazzy), and two converters to make it all work. The whole of Europe operates on 220v, yet nearly every country has a different plug configuration. It’s So. Much. Fun. (Sarcasm)
People and things have a pesky way of reminding me that I just turned 40. I don’t really look 40. I don’t really feel 40. I have a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old, both of which make me feel 20 or 85 depending upon the day. And then I visited Forever21.com this morning. As the kids say these days (or maybe it was last decade?): oh em gee. At least F21 had the class to make me feel vintage and not just old. Tupac, Tupac Everywhere. Snoop Dog. Oh, and Notorious B.I.G. And Rugrats–RUGRATS. I didn’t even watch Rugrats and I got all nostalgic. My 18-month post-partum body is going to keep me out of crop tops for now (and probably for always). Docs may or may not cycle back into my wardrobe. Floral babydolls and chokers…no way. One of these may make its way into my sweats drawer…ahem, my loungewear drawer.
I’m stuck at home sick with a sick baby. Amuse me. What clothing would you secretly (or openly) wear from your youth?
All items from Forever21.com. Shop them here.