I love seaside towns; they’re some of my favorite places to spend the day when I travel. From Valparaíso, Chile, to Brighton, England, there are few things I love more than a colorful coastal city. (Preferably with really good seafood, of course.)
Which is why I was so excited to day-trip to Aberystwyth, a university town in Wales where my friend Liam went to college.
And as soon as we arrived I could see why Aberystwyth was once a summer destination for the well-to-do, and is still popular with tourists. Aberystwyth seems almost seems transplanted from the Victorian era with an elegant promenade, Royal Pier and pastel-colored buildings.
Hey, it wasn’t nicknamed the “Biarritz of Wales” for nothing.
Aberystwyth may be tiny but it doesn’t lack for ambiance. From the crying seagulls to the old-fashioned arcade I felt I had stumbled into the Welsh version of Boardwalk Empire.
When I asked Liam what Aberystwyth was like in summer, he replied “It’s chockablock.” Which for all us Americans, apparently means crowded.
And as this is a Welsh town there is naturally a castle in town. Or rather, a castle ruins. Liam recounted that he and his friends used to have “epic NERF battles” there in college.
As an American that is something that will never cease to amaze me, the idea of playing a game on a castle ruin. It’s surreal.
Next we headed over to the harbor.
One of the boats was named, “Taid’s Out”, which Liam noted was clever as “taid” means grandfather in Welsh but sounds like “tide.”
And as usual in the U.K. the weather was a bit brisk and I kept feeling cold, warm and then cold depending on if the sun was shining. The sea breeze wasn’t helping.
As we had already been to York to see Lauren’s college town, it was fun seeing Liam’s as well. As we walked past his former house he pointed out which room was his, just as Lauren had done.
And as we looked out over the Royal Pier, watching the waves crash to the pebbly shore, Liam asked, “So Ashley, how does this compare to the rest of the world?”
I laughed and replied, “Well, this is pretty special.”
Have you heard of Aberystwyth? Would you want to visit?
When I arrived in Wales I knew almost nothing about the country. I knew of Wales’ tenuous history with England, that the Tudors were originally Welsh and of course, had heard a few bawdy jokes about “sheep-shagging.”
Beyond that I was clueless.
But luckily we had a local to show us around. Liam, my friend Lauren’s boyfriend, grew up in Wales and offered to host us for a few days at his home in northern Wales.
So one rainy morning the five of us (me, Lauren, Liam and two of their friends) set out from Lincoln and drove across the Peak District, whose wet, lonely moors made me feel I was a character in Jane Eyre.
Soon the moors became beaches, the signs featured Welsh and we were in a brand-new country.
I quickly learned that Wales is kind of like the Shire but with more castles, beaches, mountains and slate houses. In short Wales is a country that is equally quaint and striking, with a unique kind of Welsh charm all its own.
1. Wales is beautiful
Wales is an undoubtedly gorgeous country. As we drove south along the sea I marveled at the landscape: miles of blond-sand beaches, gorse clinging to the mountainside, ivy-clad stone sheep paddocks, rows of slate houses looking out over the sea.
And there were so many lambs! Sometimes the sheep were so far away they just looked like cream-colored dots on a hill, but up close I noticed their wool was blowing in the strong wind and that many were spray-painted with little blue circles.
2. Wales has tons of castles
As you drive in Wales it seems there’s about a castle every mile- it’s incredible.
While the only castle we visited was Harlech Castle, it sure is a beauty. Harlech Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site that UNESCO declares is “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.”
I loved snapping photos of the corbelled towers and crumbling staircases- the castle was straight from a medieval fairytale.
What’s neat about Harlech Castle is that locals get in free. Liam joked that everyone would be able to get in free if it weren’t for the elephant in the room, “Ashley’s American accent.” Whoops.
Liam also told us tales about how the local high schoolers sneak into the castle and drink there. Why did I never party in a medieval castle in high school?
3. People die on Snowdon
As my friend’s town is so close to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, I proposed that we hike it. But apparently it’s not for beginners; hikers get lost in fog there and sometimes die. Next time?
4. Everything in Wales is made of slate
After I got over the medieval castles, I noticed the abundance of slate. Apparently the slate industry has been important in Wales since Roman times and considering how many slate mines we drove through, must still be.
Can we talk about how charming slate houses are?
5. Welsh is spoken more in the north than the south
While not everyone in the north of Wales speaks Welsh, the majority of the population are bilingual. To me Welsh sounded like the sloth from Ice Age was speaking Martian; a lispy, consonant-filled language like none I’ve every heard.
Also, fun fact- “popty ping” means microwave in Welsh. As Liam explained onomatopoeia is a big thing in the Welsh language.
6. Lots of common last names are Welsh
Did you know Morris, Williams and Jones are all Welsh surnames?
7. Harlech is adorable
I kind of fell in love with Liam’s tiny Welsh town on the sea. Along with an unpronounceable name, Harlech has a population of less than 2,000, a sea-breeze scent and the freshest tap water I’ve ever tasted.
As we walked about town I realized that Liam literally knew everyone in town which definitely gave me small-town envy.
8. The Welsh sea is cold in March
Well, I suppose I could’ve guessed this.
One night we headed to the pub and after several pints, I convinced everyone to walk to the beach. But alas the glacially cold water foiled my plans to swim- I only made it to my mid-calf and decided to put my leggings back on!
And while I was shaking sand out of my boots the next morning, the glittering stars and empty beach were worth it.
9. The Welsh language is in danger
Sadly, I think I could’ve guessed this too.
I chatted with a local Welsh guy about his perspective on the Welsh language. “The biggest mistake is that,” he said, pointing to the elementary school. “The Welsh government is forcing kids to speak Welsh at school. But if you force them, they won’t want to speak it.”
As you guys know, I’m kind of a linguistic freak and love learning about local languages. And while language preservation is something I’m very passionate about, it’s kind of an awkward cause because you can’t donate to it.
Anyhow, the Welsh guy said speaking Welsh was very important to him and he wanted his children to grow up speaking Welsh. And while he doesn’t speak Welsh with everyone in town, he said he couldn’t imagine speaking English to the WWII vet down the street.
As an aside I wanted to thank Lauren, Liam, Steve, Dylan and Liam’s family for showing me such a great time in Wales. Diolch yn fawr!
Have you ever been to Wales?
I’d wanted to visit the north of England for years. Maybe it’s because most of my English friends are northern, or because I’m obsessed with medieval British history or heck, because I love Game of Thrones (the Starks, anyone?). Regardless, I knew I’d have to venture north during my three weeks in England.
Going north also meant visiting Lauren, one of my good friends from my Paris days! (You may remember her from posts such as this one and this one.)
I found a lot to love up north, from the incredibly friendly people to the winding medieval alleyways of York.
Here were my highlights from my long weekend in the North of England.
The Train Ride
The train ride up north was as quaint as a train ride through the English countryside ought to be.
I scribbled down notes as I gazed out the window: Back and white magpies flying low over barren fields, bales of hay stacked like wine barrels, work-horses with muddied legs, a man in a black blazer walking a small white terrier.
Also, blessedly, there were no billboards. America, we need to follow suit.
A Hilarious Night Out
While in Lincoln we had a fantastic night out which featured pre-gaming with Cards Against Humanity, swing-dancing to metal at a trashy local club called Cubes, scarfing down kebabs in the street at 2 a.m and me declaring one poor girl the next Margaret Thatcher. (My drunk brain thought this was a compliment, evidently.)
Also I really enjoyed playing Cards Against Humanity because I won like five times, and when I play in the states all of my jokes are fails. Clearly this is a sign, guys.
Crumpets for Breakfast
So, crumpets are a real thing. Who knew? And they’re also the best thing ever- like spongy English muffins that soak up buttery beautifully.
My First Cream Tea
Is it weird one of my travel goals was to have cream tea in England? Whatever.
It turns out cream tea is every bit as good as I expected: piles of buttery scones, moist lemon cakes and the best smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches ever. And for only £9, what a steal! (Good luck finding cream tea in London for that price.)
Plus, the tea shop we visited couldn’t have been more adorable; a quaint, timber-framed address with views of the river.
Exploring Lincoln and Visiting the Cathedral
When I arrived in Lincoln, I was surprised to see it was as flat and green as my native Michigan.
And though I had somewhat imagined a Billy Elliot-esque town, Lincoln is a small, well-to-do city with an 11th-century cathedral jutting above the other buildings.
Fun fact- Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1549). #nerdalert
One must-do in Lincoln: Trekking up the Steep Hill to reach the cathedral. (Plus, Steep Hill looks just like Hogsmeade.) And once you’re inside the cathedral keep an eye out for the Lincoln Imp!
Relaxing with Friends
Sometimes when you travel you crave the mundaneness of la vie quotidienne.
Which is why I relished the normal things in Lincoln: grabbing Indian take-out, eating duck ramen at Wagamama’s, spending a lazy Monday seeing the (fantastic) Grand Budapest Hotel, doing nothing but watch War Horse and Orange is the New Black one day when Lauren was at work.
Yep, I’m such a good traveler.
Day-tripping to York
Being a history nerd, I couldn’t skip out on one of England’s most historically important cities, now could I?
So I was delighted when Lauren suggested driving up north to York on Sunday. York is also where Lauren and our friend Victoria went to college (or uni, as they would say).
As it was Sunday, we had Sunday roast at Evil Eye. And I nerded out about trying Yorkshire pudding for the first time IN Yorkshire.
Overall I enjoyed Sunday Roast, but I won’t lie- I still think Thanksgiving dinner trumps it by a mile.
I enjoyed every second we spent exploring York. From peeking into a few shops…
To shooting a fake band album cover at the York Minster…
to strolling down the narrow street called The Shambles…
To retreating for tea at the House of Trembling Madness, or as it is known locally, Delirium Tremens. Delirium Tremens is a medieval drinking hall, the first Norman house built in York in 1180 and constructed with 12th century ship beams.
Also, everyone was incredibly cavalier about the fact that we were drinking tea in a 12th century drinking hall. I love England.
Have you ever spent time in the North of England?
I used thetrainline.com to book my train to Lincoln and it only cost me £ 11.25 for a one-way ticket- so inexpensive! Just to note this is not a sponsored mention- I was honestly so surprised by how cheap it was.
Okay, world. Here’s my personal declaration: London is now a foodie town. In my humble opinion, you can find more creative and diverse food in London than you can in Paris or Chicago.
Yep. I wrote it.
Don’t believe me? Read on to learn all about London’s best food markets I discovered during my three weeks in the Smoke.
I ventured to all of these markets under the shrewd guidance of my friend and fellow travel blogger Amanda. Amanda knows all about where to find the best eats in London; she’s even writing her dissertation on London’s up-and-coming craft beer scene!
What’s up: Netil Market is a tiny market located nearby larger and more frenetic Broadway Market. Its aesthetics are delightfully hipster-friendly with clapboard stalls, green pinstripe awnings and picnic benches. And despite its small size, Netil Market has lots of great eats.
What I loved: Um, this bao from Bao London. The only dish on the menu, this classic gua bao is filled with slow-braised pork belly, pickles and cilantro, and dusted with peanut powder.
It took everything in my power not to order a second one.
Also, the market offers lots of childhood classics like cupcakes and grilled cheese (which kind of goes with the hipster theme, no?). And I always thought grilled cheese was an American thing!
Where to find it: Every Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. at 23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL. Website: netilmarket.tumblr.com
What’s up: Craving London’s best ethnic food? Get ready to queue up at Broadway Market, the sprawling market located only a stone’s throw from London Fields.
The market offers up quintessentially British eats like Scotch egg and stilton cheese, as well as a kaleidoscope of ethnic cuisines, from Italian to Indian.
What I loved: At Hanoi Kitchen I had some of the best Vietnamese I’ve had outside of Saigon; I was in heaven over my barbecued pork and my beloved Vietnamese coffee. I even went back for a second coffee… whoops.
Amanda seemed to enjoy her first taste of Ghanian food quite a bit too!
We finished off the meal with a bit of caramel New York cheesecake in London Fields. While it didn’t quite compare to the cheesecake I’ve had stateside, it was still a nice taste of home.
Where to find it: Every Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:oo p.m. at Broadway Market, E8 4PH
What’s up: Brixton Village is a covered arcade market boasting the kind of fresh-off-the-boat fare that foodies dream of, from jerk chicken to traditional Japanese. It’s located in Brixton, a rougher immigrant neighborhood that’s a bit out of the way; but this food is worth the hike, I promise.
What I loved: We beelined to Okan, a tiny Japanese eatery for my first taste of okonomiyaki. Um, yeah, how have I never had this AMAZING dish before?
Okonomiyaki is a savory pork and scallion pancake topped with fish flakes and spicy mayonnaise. Drool. And because it’s always beer o’clock in Ashley and Amanda world, we cracked open some icy Japanese brews to accompany.
As we wandered around the market after lunch I cursed my stomach for not having more room; everything looked so good! I did find space for some frozen Greek yogurt that I tried in Greece a few years ago. It was as delicious as I remembered!
Brixton Market also seemed like a great place to buy inexpensive groceries; I saw tons of fishmongers and vegetable stalls in the area.
Where to find it: Brixton Village is open 8 a.m. – 11.30 p.m. every day except Monday, when it shuts at 6 p.m. The directions are complicated so check the website below.
What’s up: Borough Market is a food market located in Central London, right on the Thames. Although a bit pricey, it’s the perfect spot to stop while sightseeing. The baked good selection is particularly tempting!
And as I so eloquently wrote last year, spit roast pork sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and sangria all in one sitting? Yes please.
What I loved: While in town I stopped by Borought Market on at least four occasions. But the best thing I discovered this year was La tua pasta, a pasta stall that sells some of the tastiest black truffle tortellini in existence. My mouth is literally watering just writing about it.
Where to find it: Borough Market is open for lunch Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and offers a full market Wednesday and Thursday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.), Friday (10 a.m. – 6 p.m) and Saturday (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.). It’s located at 8 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TL, right outside the London Bridge tube station.
Here is a map I made to help you find all the markets!
View London Food Markets in a larger map
What’s your favorite London food market? And if you’ve never been, which one entices you most?
Honestly, my time in London makes me sad to recall- it was that perfect. It was one of those rare stretches of time when I was completely, uninterruptedly content, with nary a worry in sight.
Which may have involved a few factors. For one, day after day of sunshiny spring weather. In March. In London. Is that normal?
And two, thanks to Amanda (a fellow foodie and Michigander) I was able to live in London (or rather, the charming town of Richmond) rent-free. I even had my own room, and an soft, sprawling white bed to call my own. And yes, this is rare enough on my travels to worth noting.
And three? My three weeks in London coincided with my little brother Andrew’s semester abroad, so we crammed in as much sibling bonding time as possible. Obviously.
I spent my three weeks in London in the best possible way. Hanging out with my little brother in Regent’s Park with a backdrop of ducks and daffodils. Brunching in the sunshine. Exploring London’s street art-filled East End. Picnicking in the middle of the week on manchego and merlot in Hyde Park. Sipping champagne atop Hampstead Heath.
Isn’t funemployment the best?
And okay fine, I did see a few tourist attractions: The Tate Modern, The British Library, The Museum of London Docklands.
But I mostly neglected my long list of attractions because, guys, the spring weather was so nice. And why would I be inside the British Museum when I could be at a food market? Or a friend’s garden? Or… anywhere outdoors, really?
Here are all the reasons I’m still cursing the strict British visa laws, and why I so adored my three weeks of pretending to be a Londoner…
Brunching on the (Near) Daily
While I cherish lingering over all meals, lingering over brunch may be my favorite. Eggs and soldiers, smoked salmon with cream cheese, a plate of poached eggs and toast? Yes, yes and yes.
And there’s something just satisfyingly naughty about brunching on a Wednesday.
Cooking at Home
While I’m traveling I rarely have a kitchen so cooking at home in London was a gift!
I tried to offset the heavy meals I was eating out by preparing healthy French salads (think salade niçoise and chèvre chaud) at home.
Frequenting the Local Pub
My favorite things about England are pubs, banter and medieval history. And yes, probably in that order.
So naturally I fell head-over-heels in amour with Amanda’s local pub, the White Horse, during my stay. Between lazy afternoons over IPAs and raucous Wednesday quiz nights, the pub was the perfect place to kick back regardless of the hour.
And America, I beg of you- can we PLEASE have at least one proper pub here? Without 12 TVs to a wall? And perhaps a little charm? Or maybe peace and quiet? #endrant
Picnicking In All of London’s Parks
During my stay in London few parks were safe from my epic picnics: London Fields, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath included.
And these were no ordinary picnics; I lived in France, remember? I’m kind of a picnicking expert.
These were feasts of pungent, barnyard-smelling camembert, round loaves of wheat bread, port and duck pâté, slices of oily manchego and endless bottles of cheap wine.
When in London, I suppose?
Getting to Know London Better
It’s no secret I love London- I’ve even considered moving there! But it was such a joy getting to explore more of the city.
I’m now hugely in love with Shoreditch (post soon!) but I also enjoyed spending time in just about every other neighborhood I set foot in, as well as just soaking up all the daily life taking place around me.
And okay, okay, it wasn’t all clotted cream and cupcakes. (Though who are we kidding- it mostly was.) When in London I do occasionally feel judged for being American- talking on the tube made me slightly uncomfortable. (And plus, everyone’s silent!)
That aside, my three weeks in London were perfect- and I of course intend to return.
Have you ever spent a (somewhat) long period of time in London? Did you enjoy it?
While in Switzerland, I knew I wanted to do more than ski, sled and snowshoe- I wanted to get off the ground. And when sky-diving proved to be too expensive (someday!) I opted to for another sky-high adventure activity- paragliding.
This wasn’t my first paragliding experience- I tried it while studying abroad in Argentina. But as I stood on the mountain, staring across at the impenetrable fog, my heart beat a little faster than I’d care to admit. I mean, I had done this before right?
I feigned a shaky smile as my handsome Swiss-German instructor, Florian, fiddled with my straps. Soon he was behind me and shouting for me to run. I didn’t have much time to be scared- in seconds my feet were off the ground and we were soaring over the Alps.
The sensation was exactly how I remembered- calming, almost meditatively so. As we floated around, I could see the entire city of Interlaken and her cerulean twin lakes separated by a canal. When I looked down at the mountains I half-expected to see mountain goats running between the pines.
And then it was selfie time! Florian instructed me to spread my arms out like a bird while he took a picture with his GoPro. And considering how weightless I felt, it seemed like a very appropriate selfie.
(This was also the moment when I kicked myself for not buying a GoPro before my world trip.Ugh!)
For the next fifteen minutes I just floated around in a near trance, awestruck by all the views in front of me.
But soon my fifteen minutes of blissful gliding were up. Florian told me it was time to land. “Run!” He shouted. And suddenly my feet were back on the ground, in one of Interlaken’s park in the center of town.
While I’ve never tried sky-diving, I consider paragliding to be sky-diving for beginners. It’s relaxing, quiet and provides beautiful views. And of course, there’s the whole jumping-off-a-mountain adrenaline rush.
Skywings provided me with hiking boots to use, but if you’re paragliding in winter bring warm clothes, a scarf and mittens. Skywings offers paragliding year-round and the experience costs 170 CHF, while photos are 30 CHF and video costs 40 CHF. The photos came on a USB attached to a little Skywings parachute- a cute touch!
Have you ever gone paragliding?
A big thanks to Skywings for providing a paragliding session in exchange for a review. Skywings in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are as always my own.
Skiing in Switzerland is undoubtedly expensive. Like, Dear-God-when-I-pay-my-credit-card-next-week-I’m-going-to-sob expensive. While the lift tickets are cheap compared to the U.S., just about everything else: food, accommodation, transportation, costs more.
While I enjoyed skiing in Switzerland immensely, my eight days in Switzerland were by far the most expensive of my entire world trip. So I wanted to lay out exactly how much a Swiss ski holiday will set you back.
The view from my $60/night hostel. At least it’s a good one.
How much do rentals/lift tickets cost?
Well, let’s start with the good news! Lift tickets in Switzerland are relatively inexpensive. I paid 110 CHF for a two-day lift pass in Gstaad, which comes out to about $60 USD a day. Comparatively, you would pay around $85 a day in Aspen or Vail.
While I was lucky enough to have my ski rentals comped by a friend, I paid 30 CHF for snow boots (note- not ski boots) and 20 CHF for a sled. And here was the rip-off of the century: when I wanted to snowshoe down the mountain, I paid 30 CHF for a one-way gondola ride. Seriously. That’s $90 USD for a day of SLEDDING, not even skiing!
Also, I rented all of my gear from Intersport and was very happy with the service, prices and rentals.
How much does budget accommodation cost?
In Switzerland you will pay around 50 CHF for a hostel bunk that you will have to make yourself. Luckily, every hostel I stayed in was clean and provided a complimentary breakfast.
Though I did notice that many of the “youth hostels” were filled with families and elderly people. The hostel where I stayed in Grindelwald, Jugendherberge, was inhabited almost entirely by young families! While that would be fine for older guests, I was looking for a twenty-something scene and felt a bit lonely.
The tasty free breakfast at Jugendherberge almost made up for the screaming children. Almost.
My adorable hostel in Interlaken. And the cheapest of my trip- only 35 CHF!
How much does food cost on the mountain? And is it good?
The food on the mountain is Switzerland is gourmet. I loved sampling traditional Swiss specialities, from the richest chocolate cake of my life to rolled-up Bergkäse (mountain cheese).
But like ski resorts in the U.S., the food on the mountain is pricey. The soup above cost me 12 francs! Thankfully it was worth every cent- a gourmet traditional Swiss barley soup with buttery kernels of barley and dusted with dried wildflowers.
Tip- bring chocolate and cheese and munch on them through the day to save on food. Plus, how Swiss is that?
Also, is there anything than tasting a light, crisp local pils while watching clouds slowly drift over the Alps?
While beer is on par with American prices, liquor costs a pretty penny. This “snow bunny” cocktail (Schneehäsli) set me back (or rather, the Swiss man who bought it for me, ha) 8 CHF. And this was an outdoor bar!
What other winter sports are available besides skiing?
Um, I’m just going to go out on a limb and tell you NOT to go snow-shoeing. Because plodding down the mountain while sledders whizz past is maddening. Especially when it costs you $90 a day.
Sledding in Switzerland on the other hand is an absolute blast. You take an old-fashioned sled, strap on your snow boots and careen down the mountain at perilously high speeds. Love.
This type of sledding would never be legal in the U.S. for liability reasons- you could honestly fly right off the mountain! Which is obviously why it’s so exhilarating.
Because you use your feet to stop it’s important to use sturdy snow boots- the snow-boarding boots I had made it hard to stop as they are so soft and round.
Another high-octane winter activity in Switzerland? Paragliding! While the experience costs around 170-200 CHF, the alpine views and adrenaline rush make it worth every franc. Post on my experience coming soon!
Overall, is skiing in Switzerland worth the expense?
Well, I’m not sure. While the alpine ambiance is lovely, I think you could have a similar but cheaper experience in France or Austria.
One huge advantage to skiing in Switzerland over the states is the lack of lines. I waited only a minute or two for each lift- a far cry from the 20-30 minute waits at Deer Valley! Plus, the views of the alpine villages from the slopes is hard to beat.
Would you want to ski in Switzerland?
I haven’t mentioned this much on the blog, but I’m a die-hard ski bum. As in, my parents taught me to ski as a toddler, I raced GS and slalom in high school and I used to be on the hill five to six days a week. Not so bad for a Michigan girl, huh?
And ever since my first Warren Miller movie at the age of six I’ve dreamed of skiing the chalet-dotted mountains of Switzerland.
Which is why when my family friend Doerte invited me to her Swiss ski chalet for the weekend I spared no expense. Travel accounts be damned, I was going to finally ski Switzerland.
My family friend, Doerte, is someone I have admired my entire life- an elegant German woman who married an American and divides her life between the U.S., Italy and Switzerland. Have I mentioned she speaks five languages?
Upon seeing her chalet in Gstaad for the first time I was already in love- a cozy mountain farmhouse situated next to the Swiss dairy farmer, with views of the Alps from every window.
On my first morning Doerte prepared me a hearty pre-ski breakfast: earthy German black bread, a soft-boiled egg, wheat bread with French honey and butter and black coffee with cream.
Breakfast is already one of my favorite things in the world- there’s truly nothing I love more than to waking up to toast. But nutty German black bread? I was a goner. But I guess with a surname like Fleckenstein it’s in my blood.
Once Doerte son outfitted me with complimentary ski gear (Danke!), we headed to the hill. While we rode the gondolas Doerte spoke German to everyone while I sat and cursed myself for not knowing a word of it.
Doerte also taught me a neat trick- to carry snacks on the mountain. In my pockets I kept one ziploc of gruyère and one of chocolate, which helped us stay out longer as well as save money on lunch. Genius!
But despite all the fun I was having, on my first day I was almost in tears. My boots were too big (racing boots are much tighter than recreational ski boots) and I felt so out of practice. It had been almost three years!
But I couldn’t be too upset as after a full day on the hill I got to relish one of my other favorite rituals- après-ski. Because is there anything better than sitting in a toasty living room after a cold day on the slopes, cheeks flushed with a glass of wine, chatting with friends? Well, no, in my opinion.
On my last day in Gstaad Doerte took me for a little spin around town. I loved seeing the little villages, where clothes hang between 18th century chalets. Many chalets had inscriptions on the façade, with the last name of the family, a prayer in German and a date of construction- I saw some that dated back to 1757!
And between the beautiful blue skies, no-lines skiing and lovely company, I couldn’t have had a better time finally experiencing the Swiss Alps.
Are you a skier? Would you ever want to ski Switzerland?
While I spent majority of my time in Venice lazily wandering the canals, one day the group and I mustered up the energy to lazily wander the canals of another island- Murano.
Murano is famed for its glass-making, and upon arriving I realized the entire island truly is glass-obsessed- I even spied glass pastries in the shop-windows.
While I wasn’t a fan of most of the glass for sale (mainly because I can’t stand millefiori) I did spot some ruby-red goblets à la Pablo Neruda I have long coveted. But alas, world trips don’t lend themselves well to delicate glass goblets.
For lunch we stepped into a little hole-in-the-wall crowded with workers in technicolor orange uniforms. As always with Edna, I was in for the meal of my life: seafood pasta brimming with mussels, moist salmon in a spicy green pepper sauce, bitter spritzes to accompany.
The company wasn’t bad either.
After lunch we ambled up and down the canals and took about a million photos. I particularly loved snapping shots of the antique wooden boats moored up around the island- my family has a 1957 Chris Craft at our cottage so they’re very near to my heart!
Before leaving the island we stopped for gelato, my daily indulgence in Italy. Sitting there, basking in the warmth of the Italian sun with hazelnut and chocolate gelato dripping down my fingers, I joked about how my life is exactly like Eat Pray Love. And realized that I’m totally fine with that.
Have you ever visited Murano?
I arrived in Venice at night by vaporetto, the boat rocking gently as I observed the promenade. I could faintly smell seaweed as I stepped out of the boat, the cobblestones illuminated by ornate street lamps as passersby strolled past in 18th century carnevale costumes. I looked up and to my surprise, saw stars.
From the start, Venice felt both magical and bizarre, like a cross between a James Bond film and medieval time travel. And needless to say, I quickly fell in love with the surreal, sinking city.
And while visiting Venezia I didn’t see one museum, because damn it, after the Midwest’s polar vortex I wanted to enjoy some Italian sunshine.
Here are the highlights from my lovely week in Venice.
Staying in a Gorgeous Rental House in Zattere
Thanks to the lovely Edna‘s invitation, in Venice I stayed with her group of friends in a stunning canal-side house. The house was located in Zattere, a residential neighborhood with a wide waterfront promenade.
I think bunking up in a residential area was among the reasons I fell so hard for Venice- sipping my cappuccino while watching runners in the morning and groups of surly teenagers smoking cigarettes after school was so much more interesting than being among fellow tourists.
Also, in our beautiful six-bedroom home we were able to cook every night. When it was my turn to make dinner I prepared tortilla de patatas, a Spanish classic, and we enjoyed fresh fish, beautiful vegetables and fondue on other nights.
Joe taught us how to make spritzes and negronis too. (Which I thought tasted like cough medicine. So much for being sophisticated.)
And next to our house was a charming cicchetti bar, Cantinone Gia’ Schiavi. Cicchetti are the Italian cousin of pintxos, little appetizers on bread. I particularly loved the creamy gorgonzola and walnut- yum.
Sampling the (Somewhat Dangerous) Local Wine
On the way home one evening, Lizard and I stopped at La Freschetteria, a wine bar where the owners fill up plastic jugs of wine for you for only a few euros. We opted for a prosecco and red sparkling wine (raboso).
Well, it turns out, this wine was… overly effective. After a wild night out at a Venetian club we deemed the wine to be roofie juice, devil wine and the most dangerous substance in all of Venice.
Having Fried Doughnuts and Italian Coffee for Breakfast
Apparently in Venice it’s tradition to eat fried doughnuts, or fritelle, during Carnevale. As a Detroiter this very felt familiar as we eat pączki on Fat Tuesday.
And of course, when it Italy you have to imbibe as much coffee as reasonably (or not) possible. Because as we all know Italian coffee is the nectar of the gods.
Wandering the City
Venice is a labyrinth. So many times we hit dead ends while wandering (and in Venice a dead end is water), and eventually we realized it’s easier to to just take a vaporetto than to navigate the canals.
But whenever we got lost we just drank more coffee, so no loss, right?
You guys know I keep it real on this blog, so I wanted to detail what I didn’t love about Venetian Carnevale.
Well, Carnevale as a whole was a disappointment. While I was expecting merry-making and dancing, what I got was occasionally seeing someone walk past in a costume.
I highly recommend coming to Venice but probably not during Carnevale. It seems better suited for older people- it’s not as much a young person’s festivity.
And aside from the cicchetti and one venison ragù with fresh pasta, the food in Venice was the worst I’ve had in Italy. Plus, it was highly over-priced.
But overall I had a fantastic time in Venice. Venice made me realize how arrogant a traveler I’ve become- I had put off coming to Venice for years because I thought I’d hate it. And I am so glad that hubris didn’t sway me from visiting this winter.
Have you ever visited Venice? Would you want to go for Carnevale?