Tuscany

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Wow. This is gonna be a tough one to keep to just a few words! As before, if you’re planning a trip and would like more details, e-mail or message me, and I’d be happy to share…

Springtime in Toscana Italia. Is there anything more delightful? We decided to leave our agenda pretty open ended for exploration – we had two nights booked, and from there we just thought we’d see where the wind led us. *I would not recommend doing this in high season – we were only able to take the risk because things were still pretty slow in the tourist department in April! Turns out? We ended up spending an entire week right where we started!

So the story about where we stayed: our plans originally had us starting out near Firenze, making a slow clockwise loop around Tuscany, and perhaps stopping in Volterra briefly (like for an afternoon) on our way back to the airport in Pisa. – Then, just a couple of weeks before our trip, we decided to watch a Rick Steves video on the Tuscan hill towns, and in the video he declares his love for Volterra as perhaps his favorite best-kept secret! From what we saw on the video, we knew we wanted to make it a more prominent stop on our tour, and as we found it even closer to Pisa than Firenze, we promptly canceled our first reservations, and discovered the gem that is the Albergo Villa Rioddi. Although the room decor is nothing to write home about (most European lodging isn’t), the bed was comfy, everything was spotlessly clean, and the views from our windows: worth a million bucks. We loved the breakfast buffet (which was included), wifi was free, and the location couldn’t possibly have been better. It was maybe a 5 minute drive to the city walls, and even less to a local super market and laundry mat. It had everything that we needed, and a breathtaking view to come home to every night, so we decided to put down our roots for the week!-

I think it’s safe to say too, that after visiting many, many towns in Tuscany, Volterra is our favorite by a mile! It’s small. The streets are very navigable on foot (not too steep), the restaurants are divine, there are very few tourists to be had, parking was easy to find, the locals are friendly, there is a beautiful park, and nice rustic walking trails through the woods… It just spoke “home” to us. As a point of reference, everywhere we wanted to visit within Tuscany was less than a 2 hour drive.

Yes, we avoided every major Italian antiquity on our trip. No leaning tower (except from the highway and the plane!), no David, no Coliseum. We were there to discover the Tuscan way of life – not to stand in line all day to snap a picture of something famous. And what we discovered was that we could so easily assimilate into their culture. Our hearts were born for the Italian countryside. We’ve never felt at home or happy here in America. And now we know why!

Who knows if the future will bring our longing to fruition, but for now, we have our photos and memories to help us relive that magical week in Tuscany. If you’d like to see a few, there is a slideshow below. But be warned: it’s almost 15 minutes long!

Tuscany 2013 from Kristin Dunker on Vimeo.

 

Ireland

petals IMG_8934 IMG_9133 Ireland3How do you even begin to describe such a wonderful trip? I don’t intend to drag every little detail out into a hundred posts, don’t worry… But if any of you are planning a trip to Europe and would like more play-by-play info, feel free to e-mail me. I’d be happy to share more of what we saw, where we stayed, and what we did!

For today though, CLICK HERE to view a little slide show I put together on our trip to the Emerald Isle.

We flew into Dublin, and drove across the country (on the wrong side of the road!) to the west coast and the enchanting hamlet of Doolin. The people, music, food, and cliffs were everything we’d dreamed they would be.~ And would you believe it? The weather was delightful! In Ireland. What an unexpected gift that was! I will say though, that you’ve never experienced wind until you’ve experienced wind in Ireland. I was quite literally blown off my feet more than once (and I have have the dirt stains on my jeans to prove it :-))!

We chose not to travel very much once we got into Doolin. Instead, we relished every moment of soaking up the heartbeat of that little community… Really experiencing Irish country life firsthand. We couldn’t get enough of the breathtaking cliffs of Moher and spent several days there- we explored the Burren, and took a little trip down to Bunratty to tour the castle and enjoy their Traditional Irish Night performance. It was a fun cultural experience with delicious food and high quality performers. Definitely worth the hour+ drive!

Before we left the country, we drove over to Drogheda to visit a dear friend and her new husband, then we were headed back to Dublin the next day: bound for Tuscany!

Some highlights: the Irish breakfasts, the beautiful endless stone walls, our Innkeepers (a couple around our own age actually!) who truly welcomed us into their family, the breathtaking pastoral scenery all around Doolin, the local music, the peaceful, slower pace of life… It was all a wonderful dream – one we actually got to live awake! So, so grateful for the experience.

 

A Perfect Traveling Dress

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On our recent trip abroad, our luggage (thanks to our Ryanair flight) was fairly limited.- I have more posts cooking up about how I managed to pack lightly and remix my vacation wardrobe, but today I just have a quick outfit shot for you highlighting what I would call the perfect holiday dress. It’s an outfit-in-one:  just add some earrings and you’re good to go. It even has the belt built-in! Because of the weight of the fabric, color, and pattern, you don’t have to worry about a slip or camisole. And let me tell you…all those little things add up when bag space is at a premium!

Now let’s talk about hair for a sec. I dislike wearing my hair back completely. Just don’t like what it does to my face shape. But because of our schedule, activities, hard water of Tuscany, wind of Ireland, and my lack of desire to spend 3 sessions a day working on my hair, my option were: braid or ponytail it. That got old fast. So upon my arrival home, I decided a trim was in order. Actually a 6 inch trim. – Pictures to come.

 

Top 5 Travel Tips


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petalsHomegirl Casey’s here today to talk a bit about travel advice. This girl is full of it (in both senses of the phrase! Ha!). She was a veritable well of knowledge that I tapped into often as we were preparing for our jaunt across the pond. And now…SURPRISE! We’ve actually been off enjoying said trip for the past few weeks (hence all my sweet friends helping to fill in for me around here), and while I’m back home now recovering from jet lag and getting my American bearings, allow Casey to share some of her wisdom with you. I promise to relay all the details from our amazing journey soon!

petalsHello there, friends of Kristin…and therefore friends of mine! I’m Casey, the brains behind the blog We Took the Road Less Traveled. I’m just your average Southern girl turned expat, living abroad in beautiful Germany! Completely normal, right? It’s not exactly where I thought I’d be spending 3 years of my adult life, but we definitely aren’t complaining! My handsome Air Force hubby and I made the move 4,000 miles away from our families in North Carolina a year and a half ago and have been traveling fools ever since! We love life here in Deutschland and have had the opportunity to travel to some pretty amazing places. Just last year we visited 9 different countries! My wallet is currently in the corner crying, but it’s worth it, I swear. So, how in the world do we manage to keep our sanity while traveling? Good question. Lots of wine! You think I’m kidding? I’m not. Ok, so wine and a few important tips we like to keep in mind while we’re far from home. Lucky for you, I’m going to reveal a few of our best travel tips here today! If only I could share the wine too, huh? 😉

Top 5 Travel Tips:

     Be flexible. You may have planned and planned a particular trip down to the very restaurant you’re going to dine in every evening, but just as in everyday life, Murphy
will strike! Murphy’s Law, that is. He’s always waiting around the corner to ruffle your feathers and turn a would-be fantastic getaway into a total suck-fest. So, learn to go with the flow. Roll with the punches. Fly on the wings of an eagle. One too many cliches? Moving on…

     Have realistic expectations. You’re not going to be able to do and see EVERYTHING you want to while traveling. Believe me, we’ve tried. My motto used to be, “If your feet
aren’t bleeding by the end of the day, you’re not doing it right!” And then I got a reality check. And lots of Band-Aids. Come into each travel opportunity with a few “must-see” spots on your list and let the rest be “bonus sights”. If you see them, cool. If not, ehhh, maybe next time. Don’t wear yourself out to the point that you don’t enjoy your surroundings. You’re on vacation for gosh sakes!

     Talk to the locals! We’ve found some of Europe’s best-kept secrets that no travel book will show you just from getting chummy with the wait staff or striking up a convo with a street performer (but please, dear Lord, give them a dollar or you’ll get a mouthful of not so friendly travel advice). They live there, why wouldn’t they know the best pub or picnic spot in town? Travel books are nice, but don’t let them dictate your entire trip. Go off the beaten path a bit and see what fun awaits you. Some of our most memorable experiences abroad have come from taking “the road less traveled”. HA! See what I did there? I know, stop it.

     Bring an umbrella. No matter where you go, it rains. London, it rained. Italy, it rained. Germany, it RAINS. If we waited for a day when the weather was perfect to get out and see our host country, we’d never see anything. It’s the rainiest place we’ve ever lived. But, that doesn’t stop us. And don’t let weather stop you! Invest in a sturdy umbrella and raincoat (or two) and make sure they’re in your carry on. You can thank me later.

     Don’t let culture shock bog you down. Stepping off the plane into a foreign country can be one of the scariest things in the world. It could also be the most exciting. Do your
research beforehand. Coming to a new country with a little knowledge of the culture and language can go farther than you’d expect. The locals appreciate when you make an effort to talk to them in their native tongue, however hard or embarrassing it may be. They also love to practice their English on you! Germans are notorious for never letting me speak German. It’s probably better that way anyways. Be open-minded and willing to try new things, no matter how wacky or un-American they may seem. We view the world through the eyes of our own culture and are often put off by the way other counties live, eat, dress, and what they believe. Because of this, we tend to shy away from certain experiences and often don’t get the most out of our trips abroad. While traveling, I challenge you to take time to appreciate your differences. Submerge yourself in them. I believe being a traveler can contribute to a person becoming well-balanced. Worldly. It can also make you appreciate what you have back home. After all, there is no place like it!

So, there you have it. Everything you need to know about traveling abroad, whether you wanted to know it or not. Auf Wiedershen, freundes!petalsThanks Casey-girl! I know you’ll want to follow along on all her travel adventures – currently on her docket: a 12-day Mediterranean cruise. I know. Here is where she hangs out:

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Travel Review: Greenville, SC

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We spent Easter weekend helping my sister and brother-in-law move down to Greenville, SC and I have to say: what a fun place! Teeming with life, this city  just shines with a fresh, artsy flair…

Besides the never-ending foodie heaven that is main street (mouth-watering restaurants as far as the eye can see!), I especially fell in love with the lushly landscaped park and river area that’s built right into the footprint of the downtown district.

A delightful plus for plug-in car owners are the free recharging stations found inside the parking garage – proving that Greenville is, well, truly green! –

You’ll find all the shopping essentials close by, (topping my list are Anthropologie and Trader Joe’s) yet you’ll never really experience that closed-in feeling of a crowded metropolis. This outdoor-loving, dog-friendly town is truly a southern gem.

And now, a few photos from the time we spent downtown:

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Have you ever been to Greenville? If so, what are your must-sees for visitors?

A Travel Review: The Craddock-Terry Hotel

We recently enjoyed a lovely get-away to the Craddock Terry Hotel in Lynchburg, VA.


A boutique hotel featuring 44 rooms, the Craddock-Terry is a perfect home base for exploring around the historic and cultural town of Lynchburg.


Located in an old shoe factory, much of the original industrial feel has been kept intact with homage to its heritage evident in charming little touches around every corner. – The rooms are spacious (we had a Deluxe King) and modern – yet very warm and comfortable at the same time. Exposed bricks and soaring ceiling with raw beams speak of its former life.

Our room had a mini fridge and Keurig machine, bottled water, and robes, along with the regular bath amenities you would expect from any well appointed hotel.

One of our favorite features was an old shoeshine box that was waiting on the bed with a menu card inside. You simply fill out your breakfast wishes (bagels, muffins, yogurt, juice, fruit, eggs, etc.) and place your box outside your door at night. – First thing in the morning it will be replaced with a lovely continental breakfast that will keep you fueled for hours. Breakfast is FREE!

Speaking of food, there are two on-site restaurants: fine dining at Shoemakers for special occasions, and amazingly delicious pizza at Waterstone Pizza. – We also enjoyed a meal at The Ploughcroft Tea Room, an authentic English establishment within walking distance.


The hotel is pet-friendly, which we love. They also have a resident hotel pooch, Buster Brown, should you leave your furry babies at home and need a petting and snuggling fix, he will gladly oblige!

The only drawback to this hotel, could also be its strength: it’s truly a downtown hotel. Located on the riverfront and conveniently within walking distance to many shops, restaurants, and attractions, you will hear traffic and train activity throughout the night. If you are a very light sleeper, we suggest you bring earplugs.

The front desk staff was very friendly and helpful – we especially appreciate Todd, the hotel manager, who went out of his way to reschedule our visit due to a death in the family.

If you’re looking for a unique experience close to a town worth exploring…why not consider the Craddock Terry!