On the Irish Sea

Flags

Though our time in Ireland was brief, I think of Guinness and colorful flags and warm air.

Stone buildings, kind-faced people and shimmery green landscapes.

Castles and pubs, expansive seas, old cemeteries.


Guinness

Cemetery


I think of 2011: walking in a foreign country an ocean apart from Spencer, trying to find a way to call home . . . and somehow managing to exist without a cell phone.

For a week, anyway.


Irish sea


I think of waking up in Dublin to pull back the curtains in the tiny hotel room I shared with my sister, both of us bleary-eyed after an early wake-up call as we watched a buzzing city come to life.


Moss on stone


And I think of taking it all in with my family, laughing at how American we must have looked with our cameras, comfortable shoes and wide eyes.

I don’t mind being a tourist . . . or even looking like a tourist. So long as I’m soaking it all up, taking it all in, what does it matter?

We only live once.

And we should definitely spend part of our days on the Irish Sea.


Advertisements

Golden State of mind

Golden Gate


I’ve spent a surprising amount of time shuttling to the West Coast in the last decade — mostly because, well, it’s beautiful. And fun. And amazing.

We’re headed back to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park to take lots of pictures, haunt delicious restaurants and generally relax. I long to breathe mountain air. I don’t really know what we’ll be up to and don’t have many expectations . . . if I’m out and away and standing in the trees or by the river or near the sea, I’ll be happy.

Like a responsible blogger, I intended to schedule posts for my absence — but I decided, you know, I should take a break. It’s important to pause, step back, think. So write meg! will go quiet until the week of June 2, but I’ll look forward to seeing (reading?) your smiling faces when I return. (Or follow the fun on Instagram.)

See you soon!


High tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

High tea tiers


One of my only regrets about our 2011 trip to the UK was my inability to enjoy afternoon tea in the countryside. The signage, the sweets, the beverages at the tea rooms — oh, how they taunted me. Because we were with a tour (and on a schedule), I couldn’t pause to sip Earl Grey or nibble a scone. No how, no way.

The most painful place I had to leave — under complete duress — was in Kilkenny, Ireland, where they were serving a fantastic-looking spread at 4 p.m. I remember watching the minutes tick down as we drove away on our big bus, knowing I’d never be there again.

I’m a wee bit dramatic, I know. But there’s plenty of truth there.

The Jane Austen lover in me is just so enamored with the idea of high tea — and knowing how much I love beverages (and, you know, eating), I recently jumped at the chance to join my mother-in-law for the experience at the lovely Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The Victorian Drawing Room proved the perfect spot for our lunch and pinkies-out sipping.


Prince of Wales

Menu

Table and chair

Close tea


The days I have something decidedly fancy to do are, of course, when my hair simply will not cooperate . . . and my tender strands? Not a fan of Niagara water, friends. Not at all. I tried to gussy myself up for our reservation and act like the sophisticated traveler I desperately longed to be, but the reality is . . . well, I’m just a photo-snapping, frizzy-haired American tourist who likes sweets.

Lots of sweets.

The spread did not disappoint: sandwiches with cucumber, salmon, turkey and cranberry; savory scones studded with fruit; individual lemon meringue pies; tiny cupcakes; raspberry bars; shortbread so tender it actually melted in our mouths. We both went light at breakfast knowing this 12 p.m. date awaited us, and I was still stuffed — like really, really full — for the rest of the day.

We wound up requesting a box to take at least half of these treasures back to our hotel. I would pay a million dollars for one of those cookies right now.


Tea spread

Sweets

Lemon meringue pie


Isn’t that the way with vacation? You dine out constantly, have all these awesome meals, and then you just . . . get tired of it. Take it for granted. After a week away, I long for a simple, light and home-cooked meal — especially these days. But a week or two later, visions of scones start dancing in my head . . .

And they are so dancing right now.


Scones


The food was delicious, the service impeccable, the location stunning . . . but the company was the best! Because my parents-in-law live two states away, we don’t see each other as often as we would like — and this weekend away was wonderful for catching up with them and getting some time to chat with my mother-in-law, especially. An avid tea drinker, Alex loved the experience, too — and we both adored having our own pots brewing while we enjoyed our time there.

Should you find yourself in Niagara-on-the-Lake, tea in the Victorian Drawing Room is served daily from noon to 6 p.m. with a variety of options to suit your tastes.

It was really fun to feel sophisticated . . . if only for an afternoon. 😉


The joy of simply sitting

Coffee


Surprise! I’m back (a little early!). I just can’t stay away. We had a great time in Niagara-on-the-Lake with my husband’s parents and enjoyed seeing Niagara Falls cloaked in a cool, gray mist. The weather was beautiful over the weekend, but we actually got snow outside Buffalo on Tuesday.

No matter. We toured around, ate too much, shared Easter candy and enjoyed hanging out. Like all vacations, it was over too quickly — but there’s something comforting, even joyful, about returning to routines.

My current routine? Reading! I finished Katharine Grant’s Sedition (bawdy, titillating and fun) and have made great strides with Frances Mayes’ Under Magnolia. I’ve really hit my groove again and can credit long waits at the airport for some of that, of course; it’s easy to get absorbed in a book with an hour or more to do nothing but sit and read (or people-watch, but that’s another story).

Speaking of sitting, I’ve gotten much better at it. Not in a lazy sense, exactly . . . although, well, that’s some of it, I suppose. I mean the whole be-here-now, live-in-the-moment stuff at which I was once so horrible. Case in point? I worried about disconnecting for two days while we were in Canada without the pricey international phone plan, but you know what I felt as I flipped my iPhone off for 48 hours?

Relief.

Sweet, sweet relief.

Since January, I’ve really gotten used to checking technology less and enjoying life more. When I’m out to eat or visiting with friends, my phone stays in my purse. I don’t look at it; I don’t check it. Unless I’m snapping a picture or something, I try not to touch it at all.

As we got breakfast before our Saturday flight, I looked over at a family of five — with three kids under age 12, I’d say — all glued to a device. Parents on iPads, kids on phones or other gadgets. No one was speaking; no one was engaged at all, unless it was with a screen. I don’t like to be judgmental, but it rubbed me wrong.

Turning my phone off — and then turning it back on once we’d crossed the border Monday — was actually . . . exciting. Novel. Fun. I’d handed out emergency numbers for our hotel to my family before we left, so I knew I wasn’t completely off the grid should, you know, a crisis erupt. But for all intents and purposes, I was roaming. Roaming free.

It stung a bit not to Instagram all our meals, as I’m wont to do, but I got over it. And hey! I can still share them . . . even if it’s not in “real time.”

Real time was spent with Spence and our family — at high tea, in tiny shops, over homemade Reuben casserole, along the shores of Lake Ontario.

Who could complain?


Remembering some (warmer) times

Outer Banks


This is never-ending winter is enough to make anyone stir-crazy. Just when I thought we were out of the doldrums and heading into cherry blossom season, one of my most favorite times of year, I got wind that we were looking at more snow on Monday. It’s currently 18 degrees.

Whut?

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I’ve been flipping through some of my favorite vacation photos in recent years. Though we tend to favor mountainous areas over beachy scenes, we have spent our fair share of time in the sand at my family’s annual Outer Banks vacations. We baked outside Westminster Abbey during our April 2011 trip to England, and also soaked up the sunshine at a mission in San Juan Bautista in California.

Let’s daydream on a chilly Friday, shall we?

And perhaps brighter days will be here soon.


Sunset

Battery Park

Redwoods

Grasmere

San Francisco

English countryside

San Juan Bautista


P.S. Though our plans aren’t completely finalized yet, we will be returning to several of these places this summer. Can you guess which ones?


Home again, home again

photo


So, I kind of slid off to the beach there.

I was going to do an “I’m going on vacation!” post but then I got all cocky and thought, Eh, I’ll schedule some posts and no one will know the difference. I only wrote a book review and a Wordless Wednesday post, though, and that isn’t exactly a full line-up . . . but by last Friday, I was tired and stressed and hadn’t packed anything and thought, I’m only human. Sometimes things just don’t get done.

My usual week’s worth of this and that was one of them. I figured my Instagram feed would fill in the gaps.

The Outer Banks were quieter than usual . . . almost eerily so. The beach was calm and devoid of the usual tangle of umbrellas and sweaty visitors — like me! — crowding its sand. Traffic was down; the weather was colder than usual. I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted, but I did sneak in about 150 pages of Megan Caldwell’s Vanity Fare has an interesting premise but is actually rather boring. For some reason, though, I didn’t bury it back in my beach bag — despite having Chocolates for Breakfast and a host of unread magazines with me.

Sometimes books do that, don’t they? They’re not especially awesome, yet somehow you can’t cast them off without wrapping them up yourself.

The drive from North Carolina back home to Maryland felt loooooong yesterday, and not just because I was the one behind the wheel. (Spence drove last year; I volunteered my services.) Heading into vacation, we always feel so buoyant and optimistic and excited. What will we do? See? Eat? But coming home, well . . . eh. Instead of long, lazy days stretching out before us, we’re faced with mountains of laundry and bills to write and a stack of junk mail and about 60 billion emails you’d prefer to delete in bulk, but maybe there’s some shred of personal correspondence in there. You know?

So that’s where I am: Laundry and Email Mountain, set adrift in a sea of work, moving and wedding planning in the dog days of summer. Do I sound bummed? I am, a little . . . mostly because the trip went so fast and we don’t have another one on the books until our mini-moon in November (save a trip to see family in August). But as things heat up, literally and metaphorically, I want to make plans to sneak away on day trips to relax, take photos and explore our area more.

Because if there’s one thing I do appreciate after vacation, it’s getting back on familiar territory. Back where, you know, everybody knows your name.

Exploding inbox and all.


The cities of my heart

Left my heart in . . .


It’s been exactly a year since Spencer and I wandered the streets of San Francisco at the tail end of our California vacation. In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long . . . but in others, so much has changed in 12 months. Good things, bad things, great things — and just thing things. I feel like I’ve done a lot of living and changing and growing in a year. And like all travel, I didn’t come home the same person I was when I left.

California has a special place in my heart. My dad went there on a college trip — his first time away from the East Coast — and promptly became enamored with San Francisco. His new love for the city ran so deep that, when my parents married shortly thereafter, he returned with her on their honeymoon. I grew up hearing stories about Lombard Street, that crooked one, and Alcatraz. The Golden Gate Bridge. The cable cars.

When Spence and I were trying to choose where to go on our OMG-I-won vacation, California came immediately to mind. And we had a fabulous time and ate awesome things. I know I babble about Yosemite, but that’s only because I loved it so deeply. I felt the same way after I visited London for the first time in 2007 — and then when I returned in 2009, and in 2011. (And since I’m apparently on an every-other-year schedule, I’m due for another English excursion.)

We all have a place that feels like . . . home. It may not be the town in which you grew up or have family, or really a place with any ties that bind. But you arrive and set your suitcase down, breathing in the cool or salty or humid air, and something about this destination just feels like it. You see another world and you change.

What’s the difference between a place you love to visit and a place that burrows into your heart? A sense of tranquility, maybe. I’ve visited many amazing towns, taken in the views and felt like a better person for having seen such beauty. But only a few places actually imprinted on my soul, for lack of a better explanation: London and San Francisco. Daydreaming about either place is my go-to having-a-bad-day fantasy. If my Flickr photo files were tangible objects, they’d be worn and threadbare from handling. I look at those pictures more than I’d care to admit.

Part of my attachment is, of course, due to where I was in my life at the time. In 2007, I was a freshly-minted college grad on a big trip with her family. In 2009, I was fresh out of a break-up and ready to take big chances. In 2011, I was in love again — and better this time — and going abroad with my parents and sister before Kate and I both became engaged and strengthened our family to a unit of six. And last year, in 2012, Spence and I were on our first trip together: just the two of us.

When I flip through my favorite shots from each of those trips, I’m remembering less of what I did and more of how I felt. That’s why I travel: to feel both closer to and farther away from myself. To allow myself to experience child-like wonder before a waterfall, or to try an exotic food I could never find at home.

I travel to come away with stories. Ones I can tell for the rest of my life.

Which cities or places hold a special place in your heart? Do you remember more of what you did, or more of how you felt? What’s a city you’re dying to see? (And if you have city recommendations, here or abroad, I’m all ears. I love travel suggestions.)