Category Archives: Adventures

Wedding Idea for Book and Cat Lovers

Wedding idea needed?

Wedding idea needed for you or a loved one? If you’re thinking about a destination wedding, and the bride adores books and cats, then Key West might be a great option. There are many pros about choosing the Conch Republic for this special event, such as:

  • it’s exotic
  • it’s within US
  • it’s known for its embracing, inclusive view toward marriage
  • it has a variety of venues, lodgings, and activities for guests
  • it’s romantic
  • it’s also a great honeymoon destination–saving on travel expenses and time
wedding idea Key West beach
Southern Beach in KW

Wedding venues galore!

Over our many getaways to the westernmost Florida Key, my Honey and I have met many newlyweds who married on the island. Most planned to celebrate their entire honeymoon there, too. I always tease my husband that I want to get married to him again, but say that this time we’d do it in Key West. I even promise, er, threaten, to wear my original wedding dress. I know my daughter wouldn’t consider wearing it in a million years. So, why not?

Wedding in Key West

We’ve observed sunset weddings on the Southernmost Beach while we lounged in our swimsuits, and witnessed brides and their entourages as they gathered at the Key West Historic Seaport. Later, we’d see the festive groups depart on a rented yacht while we dined in our T-shirts and shorts nearby at Turtle Kraals.

wedding idea on mallory square
Reception Set on Mallory Square

We’ve been celebrating the sunset and enjoying the free entertainment at Mallory Square with the rest of the crowed while a couple tied the knot at one of the waterside resorts. Their celebration would be separated from non-guests by a satin rope.

Perhaps that explains why I half-expected to hear a couple reciting their vows at the legendary property while we were touring Hemingway’s house. I mean, it could happen. Right? Well, apparently not. According to our tour guide, weddings and other special events only occur there in the evening hours, AFTER the museum tours are done for the day. It’s such a tropical and tranquil spot, secluded from the noise of Duval Street and filled with legend, history, and happy cats. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the concept. What a great wedding idea!

wedding idea at Hemingway House
Tropical and Tranquil

Hmm. Now I might not be able to convince my husband to marry me again, but perhaps he’d agree to a book release party there someday, and I’d invite all my reader friends to join us. Wouldn’t that be cool?

wedding idea pagoda
Wedding Pagoda at Hemingway Property
wedding idea for Key West venue
Wedding Pagoda

In addition to the wedding pagoda, you will also find forty-five or so well-cared-for cats that roam the tropical-landscaped property, a gorgeous backyard pool I told you all about in Pool at 907 Whitehead (maybe that’s when they make use of the pool?), and an on-site pet cemetery. The last isn’t such a happy thought, but I figured I’d mention it since it highlights the love Hemingway and his descendants had for their feline pets.

Hemingway Pet Cemetery
Hemingway Pet Cemetery

Wedding idea chat…

It’s your turn. Let’s chat weddings. Mine was in the Adirondacks on a chilly April afternoon–complete with snow flurries!  You might want to share:

  • Your wedding story
  • Your take on destination weddings
  • Your dream wedding ideas
  • OR  your reaction to this post in general

This post wraps up my mini blog series about Ernest Hemingway’s Key West property. If you’re interested in learning more, you can catch up by hopping on over to the first two posts, Hemingway’s Key West Studio and Hemingway House’s Fun Facts and Six-Toed Cats. (I mentioned and linked to the third Hemingway House post earlier in the post.)

WINNER of Summer of Love Giveaway #1

Congratulations to TERESA FORDICE! You’re the lucky winner of Patty Blount’s YA romance, TMI, and assorted Patty Blount and Jolyse Barnett swag! Contact me via my website contact page to confirm your mailing address. (I used List Randomizer at to select the winning entry.) Thanks to everyone who participated. I enjoy blogging, but enjoy reading your comments even more. <3

Patty Blount, YA Author
Patty Blount, YA Author

Enter the Summer of Love Giveaway #2

By Maggie Van Well
By Maggie Van Well
You never know what you’ll find behind the wall of a closed up fireplace.
Emma Hopkins is a recently divorced chimney sweep trying to make it in a man’s world. When she wins a huge job in Brooklyn Heights , she finds more than she bargains for; a sexy general contractor who makes her blood boil and an evil spirit who wants her dead.
Ryan Atkinson struggles to keep his once-successful general contracting business alive, but horrors in his past have made him a shell of the man he once was. Now he has to face those fears to save Emma from a murderous ghost hell-bent on revenge.
Together, Ryan and Emma become ghost hunting partners, hoping to solve the mystery behind Ruby’s letters. What they uncover is a one-hundred year old murder and a budding love that can’t be denied.


This is truly one of the sweetest romances I’ve ever read. A real gem!

Maggie Van Well is another blessing in my life since I began writing professionally six years ago, one of my Long Island Romance Writers pals, and a great personal friend, as well. If you’re not into ghost story romances (although I think you’d love this one, too), she also writes contemporary romances. Learn more at Maggie Van

So…before you go, leave a comment about today’s final Hemingway House post and you’ll be entered for a chance to win the second of my Summer of Love giveaways! This week’s prize for one USA resident who leaves a blog comment features an autographed copy of Maggie Van Well’s RUBY’S LETTERS. The gift package will also include a few surprises, including Jolyse Barnett swag. I’m excited to do my small part in spreading a little summer love!

One winner will be selected at random from the comments and announced in next Monday’s blog post. Winner will have one week to contact me via my website contact page and supply a valid US mailing address for the package to be mailed. Otherwise, a new winner will be selected. Thanks for playing and have a wonderful week!


Pool at 907 Whitehead

Pool time? The swimming pool at 907 Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida was the first in-ground one built on the island. Sixty-four feet long and twenty-four feet wide, it was an engineering feat for its time.

But that isn’t the most fascinating aspect of this pool…

swimming pool
Swimming pool at Hemingway House, KW

Like most stories related to Ernest Hemingway, who lived there with his second wife, Pauline, and their children from 1931-1940, there’s an air of mystery surrounding how the pool came to be. And as the tour guide spoke about it, many of the phrases he used to describe the structure reminded me of the writer, too.

Over-the-top. Unique.  Extravagant. Innovative.

swimming pool replaced the boxing ring
A Sparring Partner

But interestingly, as much as it reflects the late author’s persona, a swimming pool wasn’t Ernest’s first choice for his tropical backyard. Apparently a boxing ring was his idea of fun, because shortly after they moved into the house, he installed one so he could practice his amateur boxing skills on a regular basis. Of course, he invited his friends to watch.

Can you imagine looking out your window into what you’d envisioned would be your tranquil, tropical-set backyard and seeing a bunch of rough, sweaty guys cheering on your husband as he exchanges punches? From my research about Pauline, I don’t think she would sit byou and say nothing. It had been her uncle’s money that had allowed them to acquire the property in the first place, and she had two impressionable young boys. Would she want them exposed to the language and violence that went along with the sport?

I doubt it.

tour guide at swimming pool
Tour Guide at Pool

So, while the tour guide expounded on the history of the pool, I could hear Ernest pleading his case with Pauline while she complained about her yard being used as a boxing venue. He’d cite his hard work and need for a place to kick back with the guys. She wasn’t happy about when he left for the bar. Wasn’t it better he hung out at home? Pauline would point out that he went to the bar every afternoon anyway, and that he had the writing studio hogging a sizable chunk of the family backyard. Why not make the rest of it a place where they all could entertain their friends?

As I forced myself back to the present, the tour guide told us the pool had been Ernest’s idea and not Pauline’s. Hmm. Perhaps that’s true, but I still wonder whether her input might’ve been the impetus for his decision to replace that eyesore of a boxing ring with an elegant pool. Or, maybe it was Ernest’s idea. He did suggest it just prior to heading off to Europe as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. Maybe he figured that overseeing the enormous project would keep her occupied and happy. Whatever the case, the boxing ring was moved off the property to make way for the new backyard focal point at 907 Whitehead.

Interesting facts about the year-long construction:

  • An initial estimated cost of eight thousand dollars
  • Intensive manual labor to dig the massive 64 feet by 24 feet hole through solid coral
  • intensive manual labor to dig and thread a pipe to the depth of the island’s water table
  • Actual cost was twenty thousand dollars
penny at hemingway swimming pool
Legend of the Penny

When Ernest returned home after the war, the guide said that the writer was angry to learn how much money Pauline had ended up paying for the swimming pool construction. And that since she seemed to be intent on spending every last penny he had, she might as well have it right then. In response, Pauline had the penny cemented into the patio.  I looked down and saw see there was, in fact, an old coin in the pathway. Whether it was put there by Hemingway or his wife for that reason, or by someone else to perpetuate the legend, I suppose we’ll never know. But, it was an interesting detail of our tour.

Twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money, even in 2016, and I’m hopeful the Hemingway family got plenty of use out of their investment. I was happy to see many photos throughout the house that showed them swimming in it or entertaining friends while they lounged beside it. I should’ve asked the guide if anyone ever swims in the pool now. It’s gorgeous, and with Key West’s balmy weather, I feel like it ought to be.

I plan to learn the answer to that question when we return to Key West later this summer, since our balcony of our bed & breakfast king suite just happens to overlook the famous Hemingway pool. I kid you not.  So, if you’re curious like me, stay tuned for the update.

Summer of Love Giveaway #1

I hope you enjoyed the very belated–but written with love–third installment about the Hemingway house in Key West, and that you’ll visit next week for the fourth and final one.   If you missed the first two posts, or it has been so long that you’ve forgotten whether or not you read them, feel free to hop on over to Hemingway’s Key West Studio and Hemingway House’s Fun Facts and Six-Toed Cats.

Patty Blount, YA Author
Patty Blount, YA Author

Before you go, leave a comment about today’s Hemingway post so you’re entered for a chance to win the first of my Summer of Love paperback and romance author swag giveaways.

This week’s prize for one USA resident who leaves a comment features an autographed copy of award-winning author, Patty Blount’s YA novel, TMI! The gift package will also include a few surprises, including Patty Blount and Jolyse Barnett swag. I’m excited to do my small part to spread a little summer love!

One winner will be selected at random from the comments and announced in next Monday’s blog post. Winner will have one week to contact me via my website contact page or via my email address at and supply a valid US snail mail address for the package to be mailed. Otherwise, a new winner will be selected.




San Antonio River Walk

Welcome to San Antonio!

Enjoying the famed River Walk
Enjoying the famed River Walk

Thank y’all for joining me in this week’s escape deep in the heart of Texas. Named after the Christian saint by the Spanish missionaries who founded it, San Antonio is seeped in history. This is the home of Texan and Native American museums, the Alamo, and–according to of USA Today Travel–the sixth best boat ride in the United States.

River Walk

River Walk draws more than 1.5 million tourists each year.  Winding paths run along a 2.5 mile stretch of luxurious hotels, thirty-two eateries, nightclubs, retail shops, and other entertainment.  Completed in 2009, the newer Museum Reach cruise section added another 1.3 miles of walkways for tourists and locals alike to enjoy. Altogether, the actual San Antonio River and the human-made sections extend more than fifteen miles.


AND if you happen to take the cruise on a weekend evening, you may get lucky and see this:


Hope y’all enjoyed your stroll with me!

The Jersey Shore and More


The Jersey Shore

Gotta Have an Ice Cream

Hi! Rylie here. Shhh. I’m hijacking Mom’s blog once again to share a brief Moment with you before she takes over. If your summer has been like mine, it’s flown by. Before the leaves start to turn orange, I decided I better visit a few of my friends in New Jersey before they all head off to work and grad school. Of course, no trip to Jersey is complete without going down to the shore.

Knowing firsthand the devastation our Long Island beaches suffered from Hurricane Sandy, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the famous area. Boy was I surprised! There was so much beachfront at Asbury Park Beach, far more than any of our favorite beaches at home.

Asbury Park Beach, NJ
Asbury Park Beach, NJ

After lugging our beach paraphernalia and setting up for the day, my friends and I walked the boardwalk in search of lunch. There was a steady breeze, and the temperature hovered in the low 70’s despite a cloudless sky, so the beach was less crowded than expected.

The Boardwalk
The Boardwalk

Still, the thrumming of a heavy bass beat rippled from the bar/club, stores boasted touristy items with neon signs, and patrons at the multiple ocean-themed restaurants spilled onto the boardwalk at umbrella-covered tables. According to my friends, a majority of the boardwalk was rebuilt after Sandy.

DSCN0333The only damage I could pinpoint was on the weathered iron fixtures on the exterior of the Paramount Theater, although the worn building was a fascinating contrast to the shiny aluminum-walled ice cream and gift shops. We ended up buying French fries and large smoked chicken subs overflowing with crisp lettuce, honey mustard, and pickles. The food was great and reasonably priced. (You know how I love to eat!)

Tourists Abound!
Tourists Abound!

After lunch, my friends convinced me to go in the water, and even go out past the breaking waves. I’m a decent swimmer, but I panic pretty easily, so trying to stay above water and keep 1078364_10151588000943511_1002921687_nmy bathing suit from slipping off when we had to jump over the waves was an interesting experience. We dried off under the warm afternoon sun, hoping the lowered temperatures would mean a reprieve from sunburn. It didn’t. Even so, my first Jersey Shore adventure was a success. I can’t wait to go back next year, and maybe check out the shore further north or even visit Atlantic City.

Oh no! Here comes Mom. See you later…

Sunken Meadow State Park

I see that Rylie couldn’t resist telling you about her recent travels. I keep telling her she should start her own blog. It’s fun stuff. Anyway, here’s your Moment from my perspective, a few photos taken at a tranquil Long Island beach. Enjoy!

The Dunes
The Dunes


A Lazy, Hazy Day
A Lazy, Hazy Day
Sunken Meadow's version of a boardwalk
Sunken Meadow’s version of a boardwalk

Which kind of beach experience do you prefer? Lively or laid-back? Or does it depend on your mood?

Watch Hill, Fire Island


Long Island, New York has many wonderful, hidden gems. I blogged last summer about staycations, which focused on one of my favorite Suffolk County beaches. Watch Hill, one of several wonderful spots on famous Fire Island, isn’t exactly hidden or unknown. In fact, It gets downright crowded on warm-weather holidays, although it definitely is one of my home island’s jewels with an aura of otherworldliness, isolated from suburbia. In other words, you can’t drive there.

Getting There

For most travelers, there are two ways to reach this barrier island surrounded by the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean: private boat or ferry ride from the village of Patchogue. One way via boat takes about thirty minutes. The third and most breathtaking experience in getting there would be hopping a seaplane from Manhattan’ 23rd Street Skyport.

Leaving Patchogue Marina
Leaving Patchogue Marina
A Fire Island Ferry
A Fire Island Ferry

If you are travelling on a private vessel, you may opt to go tubing, fishing, or swimming in the bay before reaching your destination of Watch Hill or on the way home. Our group anchored at one point for the kids (and two of the dads) to cool off in the salty waters. Others, like me, may choose to enjoy the sights while onboard.


Watch Hill, part of Davis Park, has a number of amenities (see related links below for more information), including a white sand beach with lifeguards, boardwalk nature trails, a snack shop, tiki bar, and souvenir shop primarily stocked with Watch Hill tee shirts and other clothing. Both the marina slips (day or longer-term) and the tent campsites, provide utility hook-ups. After visiting there for the day, I can easily picture wanting to return with the tent for a weekend stay with my honey.

DSCN7451What to Bring

Visitors to Watch Hill may wish to bring coolers, umbrellas, beach chairs, sand toys, boogie boards, blankets, towels, and extra sunscreen. Dogs technically are not allowed on the beach itself, but my relatives stated they’d seen dogs at the far end of the beach at times and the people in charge hadn’t seemed to mind.

If you are traveling by ferry, be aware that the changing rooms don’t have curtains. You could wash off in the outdoor showers to rid of the salt/sand and air-dry your bathing suit. On the other hand, if anyone in your party has sensory needs and MUST change into clean clothes at risk of a sensory meltdown, you may consider bringing a shower curtain to hang up and use as needed. Since I traveled with my fourteen-year-old son with autism (his dad had to work), we were very fortunate to have my in-laws’ boat available for this purpose.

Boardwalk to beach and nature trail
Boardwalk to beach and nature trail

DSCN7447If you plan to purchase items from the snack shop, be aware they only accept cash. My son had the hamburger (fresh slice of tomato and dill pickles on a seeded bun), fries, and a large Sprite. The total came to twelve dollars and change. The food was good, although you may wish to ask for no ice in your drink if you truly want a large soda. The shop had a large enough selection if you happen to be camping for the weekend, with breakfast items included.

Snack Shop & Tiki Bar
Snack Shop & Tiki Bar
Watch Hill Beach
Watch Hill Beach
Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store
Restrooms, seating area, and souvenir store

There are a number of Fire Island communities to explore within walking distance of each other. There are full-service restaurants, twenty-something bars, gay communities, and small towns with shopping opportunities. The beaches are gorgeous and the people friendly. If you live on Long Island or plan to visit, Fire Island is a terrific summer alternative to the Hamptons.

DSCN7463Related Links:

Have you discovered any new gems in your summer travels?

Meran, Italy

 Hi! Rylie here while my mother is hunched over her laptop typing another romance. Today, I’m sharing more adventures from my trip to Italy this past spring.

We walked up the hill from Brunnenburg to Dorf Tirol on a rainy morning, able to see where the precipitation turned to snow farther up in the mountains. Waiting for the bus, we shivered in the cold mist and snapped pictures of the snow-sprinkled farms. The ride down the mountain to Meran was fairly quick, certainly less death-defying than our first bus ride, and I was excited to see the market that we were told spanned much of downtown.

The market – a strange, eclectic farmer’s market, cheap clothing mixed in with designer clothes and handbags – was pretty impressive. I bypassed the several food stands, selling everything from pastries and dried fruit to links of sausage and heaps of vegetables and fish, and headed straight for the clothing. The town square was somehow colder than Dorf Tirol, and I bought two scarves for three Euros each with the hope of maintaining some body heat. I was semi-successful, no longer shaking, so my friend and I wandered around the market looking at leather jackets and sundresses before heading back to munch on hot pretzels and chocolate croissants. Unfortunately, the rain continued, and we decided to cut our visit short and return to Brunnenburg where we could work on our writing assignments by the kitchen fireplace.

We were disappointed about not seeing more of Meran, so we opted out of a six-hour hiking trip to visit the town instead on another day, this time in bright sunny weather. We walked the entire way on a beautiful winding downhill trail, which took us about an hour to travel. There were plenty of streams and eroded rocks to hop over and around. We could see the vineyards and farms near Brunnenburg on one side, and between the thick cover of trees we spotted the yellow-painted roofs of homes on the outskirts of Meran. (I later learned many of those houses belong to North Europeans who vacation in Meran during the winter season.) My classmates and I became a bit mixed up when we ended up at a roundabout road, but thankfully, after about ten minutes of asking for local passerby directions, some joggers understood enough of our Italian/English jumble to point us in the right direction.

At the end of the trail, we were on a residential street and had to find our way to the center of town. We ended up weaving our way into a wide alleyway, and happened upon little souvenir shops clustered together. We attempted to find the bus station before we began our shopping, but were unsuccessful. Every sign was in Italian and we had no maps, so we decided to worry about that later.

One of my classmates was obsessed with the tea shop. There were all varieties of the beverage as well as tea-related dishware. She bought a tea strainer in the shape of a submarine. It was really cute!

There were antique stores with porcelain, painted dolls and handcrafted wind chimes. I especially liked the woodcarving shops, which interestingly, were the only ones in Meran that I visited with German-speaking shopkeepers. There was a forest display filled with wooden deer, rabbits, owls, and other adorable creatures. I wanted to buy the deer for my dad, but it was priced at over two hundred euros, a bit steep for my wallet. My parents have a few ceramic plates from past travels, so I was thrilled to later discover a shop with the towns’ famous clock-tower in a cherry-and-lemon colored glaze.

Of course, we stopped by no fewer than three gelato shops to find the best gelato in town!
I suppose a trip abroad is not complete without the travelers getting lost. After spending ten minutes trying to ask for directions back to the main bus station, and another half hour searching around town, we finally stumbled upon a tiny, deserted, out-of-the-way bus stop that we hoped would bring us back to Dorf Tirol. I was kicking myself for not having brushed up on my Italian more before the trip, but lucky for us, a bus did turn up at the time we thought it should. We always could’ve hiked back, but even as a newly-converted hiking lover, I wasn’t too sure how we’d manage wearing jeans and lugging armfuls of made-in-Meran purchases up the mountainside.

What’s the most fascinating souvenir you’ve ever purchased? Have you ever gotten lost and begun to panic like I did?

The Georgia Aquarium


America’s Largest Aquarium

Ocean Voyager
Ocean Voyager Gallery

Georgia Aquarium is home to many creatures, from teensy frogs to sizeable beluga whales and whale sharks. The picture above was taken inside the Ocean Voyager tunnel, one of seven galleries within the facility built in the heart of Atlanta on land donated by Coca-Cola.

DSCN7194Two of my Romance Writers of America pals and I took a break from the frenetic pace of our national writing conference to explore this beautiful underwater world on a rainy Saturday. Despite the sell-out crowds, the visit was worth the thirty dollar admission price.

Bernie and Billi Marcus of The Marcus Foundation are the aquarium’s benefactors, and companies such as Southwest Airlines, Home Depot, and AT&T sponsor exhibits.

Coca-Cola World next door

We arrived at about two in the afternoon, and were able to explore five of the seven attractions before having to return for our conference. We experienced all but the dolphin show and the 4-D theatre that allows guests to see the world from a marine animal’s point of view. Okay by us, as my friends and I had seen previously seen these types of attractions, but if you’re traveling with children and/or want to squeeze every penny out of your admission dollar, arrive early. Allot at least three hours; more if you plan to eat and shop for souvenirs.

Love the blue fish and pink starfishies

In Cold Water Quest, you’ll see cool creatures like the ones above, as well as beluga whales, Japanese spider crabs, and an odd creature that made me wonder if dragons really do exist.

Can you see the two Australian weedy sea dragons?
Humboldt Penguins
Humboldt Penguins

If you like cuddly puppies and kittens, you may enjoy crawling through a tunnel to pop up and view the world’s smallest penguins.


For those traveling with little ones, your favorite part of the aquarium may be the Georgia Explorer. According to the facility’s brochure, this interactive gallery “includes touch pools full of horseshoe crabs, sea stars, rays and shrimp.” The children I observed were having fun playing in the mock fishing boat and crawling through what I’d call an overhead hamster trail.

Tropical jellyfish, like from Nemo
Tropical Jellyfish

The Tropical Diver was my second-favorite, with its colorful fish, coral reefs, and simulated ocean surf. The exhibits make it easy to imagine yourself snorkeling in warm, salty waters. Or perhaps that’s just me?

Snorkling Visions

After oohing and ahhing over the vibrant tropical sea life, we anticipated the River Scout gallery to be bland. We were wrong. The fish colors may be predominately brown, but the water cascade, playful otters, and overhead river for much of the walk made for a fascinating experience.


At first glance…

These river fish (below) don’t strike one as particularly fearsome. That is, until you read the exhibit plaque.

"I'm a piranha!" ~ Darla in NEMO
“I’m a piranha!” ~ Darla in NEMO

Last but not least, here’s my favorite photo from our aquarium adventure. Enjoy!

Tropical Diver Gallery Exhibit
Tropical Diver Gallery Exhibit

What’s your favorite activity on a rainy summer day?

Coming Up…

Fan Girl Moment with THE Nora Roberts
Fan Girl Moment with Nora Roberts

For those of you interested in romance books and such, check back Wednesday for this writer’s take on RWA13. For next week, Rylie has promised to post about Merano, Italy. I’m homesick for Key West, so I may sneak in a bonus Conch post along the way.



Hiking the Italian Alps

Welcome to this week’s escape! Rylie is excited to share one of her favorite memories from her recent excursion to Northern Italy. First, I thank you, our readers, for your incredible response to her posts and for growing the blog through your Likes and Comments. Thanks, also, to those of you who recently subscribed to Margarita Moments & Other Escapes. I hope you enjoy your time spent with us.

Getting Ready

Despite the amazing food and picture-perfect landscapes I’d heard about regarding Italy, what got me hooked on the trip were four little words of a brochure headline–Hiking in the Alps. After months of dreaming about it, the day was finally here. Mentally, I was more than ready. Physically, I chose to gulp down pineapple juice and two slices of bread an hour before the event, my hands shaking with excitement. Ever since sustaining an injury during track, I’d been relegated to non-impact workouts, so the extent of my exercise lately had been trudging my overstuffed backpack around campus. Today my new backpack was stuffed with a jacket, my camera, a giant water bottle I bought for a Euro in town, and my wallet. I was stoked to hike the Alps!



We began the trek uphill through town, passing small housing developments and farms to get to the start of the trail. There was a moment of panic when my friend and I realized the drink we’d purchased, and thought was water was actually seltzer. (So that’s what ‘frizzante” meant on the label!) Luckily, we were able to refill our water bottles at a restaurant in Dorf Tirol before beginning our climb.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

What sights!

The hike was exhausting, and admittedly painful, but oh so worth it. The trail, for the most part, was on a slight incline, with a wall of stone on our left and a thick forest on our right. Some parts were steep, particularly as we increased in altitude, and several of us skidded on pebbles on the way down. Between the clusters of trees we could often catch a glimpse of narrow waterfalls etched into the mountainside, plummeting into the brook below. The Austrian Alps peeked out from behind the forest and hills, their snow-capped peaks nearly invisible in the morning sunlight.

Can you see the Austrian Alps?
Can you see the Austrian Alps?

Our destination was a farm about midway up the mountain, and we rested briefly at the little restaurant on property to have a beer and the most delicious cranberry-cake dessert I’ve ever tasted. If you read last week’s post, you know how much I love my food and beverages.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

I regretted chugging the rest of my beer when I tripped rather spectacularly over a small boulder on our way down. In spite of shooting pain in my ankles and knees at every step, I ended the hike out-of-breath and itching to do it all over again. I mean, who can resist climbing a mountain to have the chance to swirl around, pretending to be a character from one of the best movies of all time!

The Sound of Music…

I was Maria!
I was Maria!

Now it’s your turn. What’s an outdoor activity you enjoy best, or wish you could do more often?

Eating Northern Italy Style

Welcome to another installment by my daughter, Rylie, about her recent trip to Italy with her Creative Writing classmates from college. If you missed Rylie’s first post about getting there from New York or her details and beautiful photography of Brunnenburg castle and Dorf Tirol, feel free to hop over to those articles. But be sure to return here for Rylie’s impressions of food in Northern Italy. As you can tell by the length of this article, she is definitely a fan of this subject. Enjoy!

Gardens at Disney Fort Wilderness
Gardens at Disney Fort Wilderness

First of all, thanks for your patience and understanding when my blog post didn’t appear last week. Our family was on vacation in Orlando, and we were so busy having fun my mom and I completely lost track of time!
Rather than going in chronological order of our excursion today, I’m going to write about an important part of Italian culture – food. I was a little nervous before my trip in regards to eating. I have many food intolerances, most of which would affected by Italian cuisine as far as I was aware. But the entire trip was a new experience, so I embraced the uncertainty and figured that even if I couldn’t eat everything, it wasn’t like I was going to starve.

And starve I most certainly did not. Lunch and dinner at Brunnenburg always began with a large self-serve arugula and mixed green salad, often with tomatoes, cucumbers, or dandelions sprinkled on top. Balsamic vinegar was the dressing of choice, with freshly baked wheat or white bread to dip in what vinegar was left over. The main courses took getting used to – my plate is generally divided into half meat, half grains, so the fist-sized chicken or steak portion next to a heaping pile of veggies and beans was a surprise.

But each meal during our stay at Brunnenburg Castle, painstakingly and lovingly cooked by Brigeeta, tasted divine, and I often found myself leaning back in my chair after strawberry shortcake or tiramisu desserts with my stomach pressed uncomfortably against my jeans.
At Brunnenburg, I didn’t have to worry about my poor German or Italian, as Mary’s family speaks English quite well.

Pasta at Hotel Restaurant
Pasta at Hotel Restaurant

On the other hand, the language barrier was an often embarrassing obstacle in the restaurants of Dorf Tirol. I escaped the task of translating a menu the first night since our professors were able to show us where the “American” choices were on the pizzeria menu; I ordered a margherita pizza, the hives I was sure to get from the tomatoes well worth the relative ease of filling my appetite with a familiar meal.

Wine and Grappa
Wine and Grappa

I wasn’t as lucky the second night. Eleven of us ended up at one of the Hotel Restaurants in town with only an Italian-to-English translation guidebook for assistance. The book turned out to be useless, as the menu was almost entirely written in German. We spent an hour and a half downing wine (or, in some cases, sipping cautiously at grappa, distilled wine that smells exactly like Absolut vodka) and asking our waiter, Ivan, about every item on the menu. Thoroughly impressed by Ivan’s patience and helpfulness – he translated the entire menu for us, twice – my friend and I ended up returning there two more evenings. Ivan not only remembered us, but our specific food preferences as well.

The biggest difficulty at Hotel Restaurant, once I understood the menu, was convincing Ivan and other the waiters that what I was ordering was what I actually wanted. Substituting “wine acid” (vinegar) for tomato sauce is apparently unheard of in Italy. But once that obstacle was overcome, the turkey (chicken was oddly absent from most menus) and pasta dishes I chose were decadent. The turkey was grilled to a golden brown and tasted exactly like chicken, making this chicken lover very happy, and the pasta was al dente. Perfection.

As for desserts, Schokoladenkuchen (chocolate cake) and Apfelstrudel mit Eis (apple strudel with ice cream) were by far the best desserts, and the Italian gelato was, of course, delicious. Sadly, I didn’t get around to trying the large gelato fruit sundaes, but it’s on my list of sweets to select when I one day return to Italy.
Before leaving Dorf Tirol, I had to try the one food the town is known for –Spargel. Spargel is a German white asparagus that, with my limited knowledge of vegetables for comparison, tasted most like an overly thick, fibrous string of half cooked spaghetti. The Spargel itself had little flavor other than butter, but it was featured in numerous dishes – at one restuarant, two full pages were dedicated to the vegetable!

Crab and Octopus In Venetian Market
Crab and Octopus In Venetian Market

I had just gotten the hang of reading German menus when it was time to pack up and leave our dorms at Brunnenburg behind, taking the three-hour bus ride south to spend a few days in Venice. Spargel, and vegetables in general, were sparse in Venice, where seafood was the dominating selection. Ever since having an allergic reaction to shrimp, I’ve avoided most seafood, but my class happily embraced the more familiar cuisine. Frittura di pesce (fried mixed fish, usually shrimp and scallops) seemed to be the most popular among my classmates, though black-inked cuttlefish was also tried, and I even tried a bite of rubbery salted octopus.

Venetian Pizza
Venetian Pizza

Dorf Tirol, a town more German than Italian, understandably didn’t make phenomenal pizza, so I was looking forward to sampling a real Venetian slice. Perhaps we didn’t find the right eatery locales or I’m just ridiculously spoiled by our Long Island pizza, but I wasn’t too impressed with the thin crusts and unblackened cheese. Still, eating pizza in Italy was something I can cross off the bucket list. Happily, the rich hot chocolate I discovered in a back-alley pizzeria more than made up for my disappointment with the pizza.

Another surprise in Italy was the shortage of ketchup. I hadn’t really noticed its absence while at Brunnenburg, but my first two meals in Venice were chicken cutlet and brie cheese sandwiches. I asked the waiter for the condiment and he scrounged up two ketchup packets for me.

Gelato was a sweet staple in Venice. Everywhere we went, there was another tiny shop boasting dozens of flavors, from ananas (pineapple) to lampone (raspberry) to nocciola cioccolato (chocolate hazelnut – Italians are pretty enamored with their Nutella). As per my usual hesitant style, I stuck to basics like stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings) and menta (mint chocolate), though I also enjoyed arancia rossa (blood orange). The servers rarely spoke English, and I often found myself answering accidentally in German, but every flavor gelato had a picture of the fruit or food it was based on underneath the label.

Alcohol, as I mentioned above, was also a main element at every Italian meal. I’m a fan of white wine, so the complimentary aperitif of Prosecco in Dorf Tirol’s restaurants was an unexpected delight, Already legal drinking age in the states, I didn’t feel compelled to spend my Euros on liquor and wine like many of my classmates taking advantage of the lower drinking age, but I did enjoy several Forst beers in Dorf Tirol and in the Venetian pubs we visited a few evenings after dinner.

Forst Beer and MineralVasser
Forst Beer and MineralVasser

Now it’s your turn. What’s the craziest or best-tasting food you’ve ever tried?

Brunnenburg Castle and Dorf Tirol Italy

You’re in for a treat today. My daughter, Rylie, is sharing more photos and details about her recent ten-day trip to northern Italy. If you missed her first post, check it out here. I am in awe of all the beautiful landscapes and buildings, and hope you enjoy them, too!

Brunnenburg Castle
Brunnenburg Castle

Originally built in 1250 A.D., Brunnenburg was renovated by Boris and Mary de Rachewiltz. Mary, the daughter of Ezra Pound (who finished writing the Cantos while staying at Brunnenburg in 1968). She now lives there with her family.

We spent the first day at the castle exploring the extensive grounds, which consist of a vineyard, several animal pens, and an agricultural museum in addition to the castle, farmhouse-turned-kitchen, and dorm-style guesthouse where students from across the globe can spend up to a year working on the grounds and studying Pound’s work.

Brunnenberg 1
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

Walking around the castle grounds was beautifully eerie. There are no artificial lights outside and the sun peeks in around the tower walls. On rainy days, the pathway between the towers is cast in darkness. Ivy winds up and through the stonework. The wooden bridges and beams, though restored, are weathered and blackened.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd
PHOTO CREDIT: Allison Lloyd

The following morning we enjoyed an early breakfast to offset some of our jet lag. I normally don’t eat until lunch, but Brigeeta, Mary’s daughter-in-law and the resident chef, had baked fresh bread, and the juice selection was too fun to miss out on. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink blood orange (Grapefruit??) and pineapple juices, along with other indiscernible flavors? After the quick meal, we had our first creative writing class before our walk.

Brunnenburg 3
Our walk was more like a hike since it took us twenty minutes just to reach town. Then, we took a gondola ride up the Italian Alps. Gondolas in Dorf Tirol are a type of ski lift (Who knew?), not the boats we would later see in Venice. I am not a fan of heights unless I’m firmly strapped in, so the ride was a bit nerve-wracking. The view, however, completely made up for it!
Once off the gondolas, we decided to hike even further up the mountain, with one of Mary’s grandsons as our unofficial guide. We walked the trail overlooking the valley as he taught us about its formation.

Brunnenberg 2The valley has two entry points, carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age. The varying ground levels, some with solitary farms or little towns such as Dorf Tirol, indicate where the glaciers stopped for a period of time. The point at which the glaciers collided is where the town of Meran lies–in the belly of the valley. The valley continued as far as I could see, flanked by snow-capped peaks of the Austrian and Italian Alps.
By the end of our hike, I knew my hiking sandals weren’t sufficient for this rocky terrain. So off I went to buy hiking boots in town, nervously bouncing between their two sports’ stores, trying to compare prices.

Overlooking valley of South Tyrol
Overlooking valley of South Tyrol

Unfortunately, employees in both stores only spoke German, so my limited Italian was useless, and they didn’t understand the words “cost,” “price,” or “money” in English. Eventually I just asked “Euros?” and pointed to different brand shoes. Eventually, I was able to purchase a pair I assumed was waterproof based on the employee’s hand motions. According to Mary’s grandson, the weather in Dorf Tirol was unusually wet and chilly for late May, so I was sure I would find out soon enough if I was correct.

Have you ever visited a castle? Do you have any funny stories about trying to communicate with someone when you didn’t speak the same language?