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Right out of a movie

I’m going to give all credit to Carley on this one. She researched and booked the world’s most incredible brunch at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley.

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Let’s just say, this isn’t your standard 3-Michelin star restaurant. This place is, quite honestly, a friggin’ Swiss Family Robinson-style experience, complete with servers that have timed deliveries and round-table speeches to introduce each individual plate.

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Our brunch took place outdoors on the wraparound deck overlooking California’s Napa Valley. I was half expecting to have chimpanzees swing onto our shoulders during the dessert course.

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This is one of those, when in Rome, experiences – we all ordered a cocktail and cheers’ed to ending this first couple’s trip with a bang.

Bloody mary’s and mimosas all around! Of course, they were ordered using the table iPad in front of us.

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The brunch menu looked a little like this.  You choose a drink, a beginning, a sustenance, and a dessert.

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By memory, Brett and I shared the half dozen oysters, the cow’s milk burrata with grilled radicchio, a Maine lobster omelet, a Kurobuto pork chop, and two fantastic desserts from this menu.

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I know for sure we choose the Chocolate Peanut Butter one, and I couldn’t guess what the second one was. Let’s just say they both rocked our socks off. Finish up with a little cappuccino and we are ready to see that bill, server!

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Somewhere along the lines of $700 and vacation, we didn’t care what this meal cost. Once in a lifetime, eating on a beautifully exotic deck overlooking Napa, with some of the best friends life could give us.

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We took one more pano picture and all piled into the cars. Windows down, wind whipping our hair all over the place. We took the scenic route home. Along the rolling vineyards of Napa, promising ourselves we’ll be back some day.

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We stopped at the nearby grocery store on the way to Oliviera, to pick up dinner supplies (I know, we just had brunch… but we didn’t want to have to drive again once we got home.) We taste-tested some frosting, picked up some grilling materials and a quinoa salad or two – then we headed back.

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The rest of our last full day in paradise was spent laughing, listening to music, jumping in the hot tub, grilling and playing Cards Against Humanity.

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Without going into the details of our sad goodbyes the next morning, let’s just say this trip was a terrific first couple’s trip – one we won’t soon forget.

Where will the next one take us? Locations we have thrown around : Hawaii, Colorado Backcountry, to the coast of North Carolina…

The world really is our oyster. And traveling in groups allows for a more exotic lodging experience since we’re splitting it 8+ ways…

Thank you for a truly memorable trip : Carley & AJ, Katie & Scott, Molly & Chris, and the best traveler I know and love, Brett

Until next time,
e

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Round two!

We wake up with barely a hangover. Win! Refuel with a little morning java and enjoy our patio before getting ready for the day and more importantly, before our limo arrives.

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Since we already had a mug of coffee down the hatch. We figured it’s time to get the party started.… poppin’ bottles.  Before you get worried about our alcohol intake, please remember, the whole point of renting a limo for this trip was the sole fact that we planned to be inebriated.  As classy and sophisticated as we could… but definitely not sober.
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Our first stop is one that we highly recommend for those visiting the Sonoma area.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyard. We scheduled their Food & Wine Pairing experience for 11am on a Friday afternoon filled with sunshine and cool breezes.  This vineyard is built on some beautiful landscape (aren’t they all?) A very popular place for people to get married.  Gorgeous mountains in the background.
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The pairing took place inside a lovely structure, the doors open to the fresh air outside.  There were two tables positioned half-circle style with the seating on the outside of the curves.  The wine experts walked through and around as they introduced each pairing.
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Each place setting had a leather-bound portfolio with the menu details & a notepad to write tasting notes in.  I vaguely remember doodling hilarious stick figure pictures and Bob Marley quotes on mine… at one point during the experience, Brett looks over and exclaims, “My feet feel like cotton!”  He is entirely enjoying himself, on top of the dosage of DayQuil (for his head cold) taken 30 minutes prior.  It’s amazing what a little vino and a little acetaminophen will do to ignite the senses!
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To be honest, I don’t even remember what all we had {so zoom in on this picture & read it!}  Nevertheless,  it’s true when they say pairing wine with a specific food enhances the flavors, it really works!  The whole experience was a delight. Something we would do again in a heart beat.
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Back in the limo we go.  The next stop, Ledson Winery and Vineyards. Originally, it was being built as a home, with 17 acres of Merlot planted on the grounds.  But as the structure was built, and the public became more interested, they ended up turning it into a vineyard and tasting room.  (well played Ledson clan!)  The structure is built with a French Normady-esque style, 16,000 square feet of woodwork and marble staircases.  Never missing the opportunity for a photo op, we enjoyed the front garden area with beautiful white roses and fountains.
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Their tasting room had wood floors and a beautiful bar area.  We sidled up and started to learn about their vines.  Little breadsticks were my saving grace as we sipped and sipped some more.
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After the tasting, we bought a bottle and went out back on their patio.  Some of us took naps in the sun : star-fished on the ground & loving life {cough, Carley}.  We toasted to friendship & love, as we looked at the rows of vines grown there.  What a neat place to have a summer party or a murder mystery dinner!
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A pretty spectacular roundup of the troops and we’re onto the next one!  Benziger Family Winery for the win!  This next one is a little blurry for me.  Understandably so; three vineyards in and I’m reaching my limits.
We made a pit stop potty break upon arrival (extremely necessary says the girl with the squirrel-sized bladder).  Then we hop on an extended golf cart for a tour of the vineyards.  Our tour guide explained the wine-making process at their location and the background story of the family that built Benziger into what it is today.
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I’ll be honest, a lot of what he said went in one ear and out the other.  We stopped along the tour at a little wooden hut and cracked open a white bottle of wine.  He served it to us in logo-etched wine glasses – nice touch.
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Cool little place.  Gorgeous farm animals to fertilize the soil.  Fluffy, mop-headed cows and little baby goats.  Ten points to Gryffindor for the golf cart ride, as I was not about hiking all over those poo-filled rows of vines.
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The middle of the tour took us into the wine caves where, guess what we did?… had some more vino.  It’s a lot of traveling small distances and then drinking wine.  Rinse & repeat.
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There was a really neat room deep into the cave that we all grabbed a spot at.  It felt very Knights of the Roundtable-esque, with tapestries hanging on the wall and unique art pieces.
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In the wine cave, I got in trouble for trying to snag some more breadsticks, but, please, this was a girl looking after herself!  Atleast some part of my mind knew I needed water and food.  Stat.
We circled around the vineyards on the golf carf and finished the tour in their Main Bar / Tasting Room.  I couldn’t tell you what took place in that space.  The next thing I remember is getting into the limo and somehow making it home in one piece.
Now, THAT was a tour of Sonoma.
Dinner plans were supposed to involve a bacon-infused local hotspot called Zazu, but we couldn’t make it happen.  We grabbed a variety of chicken breasts and brats at the grocery store to grill-out instead.  And it rocked our socks off.
Oh yeah, and we drank water, lots of water.
xo,
e
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Good Morning Sonoma!

We wake up and the boys cook some eggs.  A nest egg, as Brett calls them.

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We giggle and catch up on the deck.  Overlooking the mountain and unreal landscape.  All of a sudden, the limo is on it’s way and we are rushing to pull ourselves together.
The limo pulled into the gravel driveway and the driver hops out to introduce himself.  He opens the back door and we all pile in.  Champagne, soda, water… there were glass champagne glasses and bottle openers.  Living the life!
On our way to the first vineyard, our driver recommends we pull into a Whole Foods-like grocery store and pick up some lunch, since we were headed a little into the countryside and wouldn’t have many options.  We all hop out, grab sandwiches, pasta salads, hummus, and in Brett’s case, head cold materials.
Our first vineyard stop was Ferrari-Carrano.  This place looked like it was fresh out of Alice in Wonderland.  The grounds were landscaped to perfection.  Freshly-cut grass, sculptures, fountains, and beautiful vineyards as far as the eye could see.  The building itself was a marble, cream-colored structure with ornate railings and large windows.  The tasting was held in the basement, a spot called the Prevail Room.
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Our directions were to choose 4 or 6 different wines on a small paper menu.  The wines were poured and the 8 of us sat at a large table underneath beautiful black, exotic lighting fixtures.  Downstairs is where the large room of wine barrels are located as well.
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After Ferrari-Carano, we hop back in the limo and head towards Bella Vineyard & Wine Cave.  Both Katie and I had great reviews from friends about this vineyard and really wanted to make it work.  We pulled into Bella and the limo driver popped the trunk.  In the back he had flatware and every other material needed for a picnic.  Cool!  He spread out a tablecloth and we all munched on the grocery store grub.  It was nice (& necessary!) to get something in our stomach.
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A dog that lives on the grounds begged for food : made the experience that much more welcoming.  AJ gathered wine glasses so we could have some vino while lunching.
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After eats, we walked into this cave-style area that was nestled underneath a hill.  Towards the back it was dark and cold, but lively and filled with people tasting wine around a little bar area.  We grabbed a small table and tasted our way through the menu.  This was a really cool little place with lots of personal touches. I could picture a gorgeous wedding reception being held on the grounds.
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We all hopped back in the limo and headed back towards Oliviera.  Some of us weren’t feeling too hot and took a cat nap while the vineyards rolled by the windows.  Brett got a head cold and was desperately trying to sleep it off (or was it too much Zin?)
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Back in Glen Ellen, we lounged and rehydrated.  The boys jumped in the hot tub and the ladies mixed some drinks.  Towards the evening time, we dressed up and headed towards The Girl and the Fig.  A small, local restaurant with high ratings.  I was impressed that they were so conscious of wasted water & drought in the area.  Fresh olives (pitted & non) were waiting as a starter, yay!  We dined on Fig and Arugula Salad, a Cucumber Soup, Burgers and Pork Chops.  The food was delicious (& expensive!), but worth the splurge.
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I cannot remember what was so funny, but Carley almost giggle / choked to death.  Luckily, nurse AJ was seated next to her.
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We headed back towards Oliviera, in a food coma.  Driving up the dark, steep, winding mountain towards home.  We gathered enough energy to play a hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity before turning in for the night.
xo,
e
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Heading home

Our last morning in Vancouver!  We showered and scrambled to get all of our clothes into our suitcases.  All that Lululemon took up some extra space we weren’t expecting.  Some Sitting on the Lid to Zip took place.  Finally, we were off.  Wheeling our heavy rollers down the streets of Vancouver once more.  It’s nice the train station wasn’t more than a quarter mile from home base.
We boarded and snuggled into our seats.  Part of the trip was giggling, the other part was playing our card game.  It felt like Harry Potter… the train taking us through the green forests of Canada thru the US border.  I hope’d there’d be a candy cart like in the movie series… but no luck.  We found our way to the food car and grabbed breakfast : bagels and coffee
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I didn’t take pics when we arrived in Seattle because I was too busy hugging my best girlfriends.  We departed the train and those with flights leaving caught the tram from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac International Airport.  Kates and I had the latest flights out so we spent the afternoon downtown.
Downtown Seattle was bustling with activity.  We had a taste testing (i.e. hydrating) stop at DRY Soda whose headquarters are in Seattle.
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We found a tiny paper store on a corner called de Medici Ming – French for..?
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We weren’t supposed to take pictures, but of course I took one. A wall of wrapping paper, unique cards… we both got a journal and chatted with the little lady who hand wrote our receipts.
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We watched some music acts at Pike’s Place and sent a SnapChat to the ladies at the airport.  Filling them in on our adventures thus far.
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We grabbed sandwiches and seaweed wrapped rice rolls from Michou before we headed back in the direction of the tram.

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One more selife to complete the adventure.  The last two standing.  Waiting on the tram platform to take us to SeaTac.

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I’m going to miss Vancouver, Seattle, and all of the adventures we had.  Each girl’s trip weekend brings new conversation, memory making, and new culinary discoveries.

I’m going to miss getting coffee-to-go and dancing in the streets.  Giggling and taking the sights in.  Dayshopping in Gastown and sampling pastries at Nelson the Seagull.  Dining at The Lamplighter … Vancouver, it’s been real.

Seattle, you’re beautiful
Until next girl’s trip, two-thousand and fourteen…
xo
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Scottsdale : Monday

We slept in as long as we could before we had to get rolling.  Carley was the first flight out and we wanted to catch breakfast at Arcadia Farms first.  This sweet cafe is right out of Little House on the Prairie.  Wood floor, red doors, cute art on the wall.  It felt like going to a grandma’s house who knew how to interior decorate properly.

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photo 1-1In typical best friend’s fashion, we each ordered a Kir Royal to toast our remarkably great weekend.  While we recapped and perused the menu, our waitress dropped off a small plate of mini scones to nibble on.

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This was one of those spots where anything you ordered off the menu would be amazing.  I debated between the Fresh Berry Crepes and the Breakfast Panini.  The panini won: scrambled egg with rosemary ham and smoked mozzarella on a baguette.

photo 3-3Next, we had to hustle to make Carley’s departure time… never a dull moment!  Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is a city in itself, tons of terminals, north side, south side, ramps and overpasses.  Katie is a ninja navigating that space!

After dropping Carley off, we decided against our better judgment to a little hiking on Camelback Mountain in the 115 degree heat.  Plenty of water, working cell phones, crazy sports bra straps and sunglasses – we set off.  It got hotter and hotter as we climbed and pretty soon we made the executive decision that we were sweating faster than we could replenish with water, and that a descent was the best option.

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The rest of my afternoon, I dipped in the pool and packed up all of my things.  We stopped off at Sprinkles to pick up some goodies for the folks at home and I found my way to my gate.

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More than one time this weekend – Carley and I promised we would be back again next year for another long weekend in the hot box.  There’s nothing like 4 days with your best friends to really refocus on what’s important in life.  Friendships, memories, laughter, and not taking ourselves too seriously.

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Until next time AZ,

xo

 

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ready or not Belfast, here we come

Everyday feels like a gloomy Sunday here, with the rain. Except for us, it’s not gloomy, it’s an adventure. But, could you imagine living here? No sundresses, no skirts, no swimsuits. Pale skin pretty much year round. I love, love passing through but don’t think I could spend my life here in Ireland.

Today we woke up and took super hot showers which resulted in very foggy castle windows. #castleproblems When else are we going to spend the night in a castle? We had to make the most of it! Breakfast was much appreciated before we packed up and shipped out. We took one of the four local taxis to the bus stop where we were dropped off our first day in Collooney. It is on the side of the road, next to a stone wall. The bus was a tad late and it was raining, drizzle-raining that Ireland is so well known for. I passed the time by perfecting my handstands and wearing my hipKNOTies in strategic placement.

The bus arrives at 11:10 and we board. We pay the bus driver in Euros (€17.50) to get to Derry. We make a 15 minute pit stop in Sligo (super cool surfer town that I wished we had a chance to visit… next time!) and spend about 2 hours en route to Derry. In Derry, we really quickly find a toilet (not restroom, or bathroom, they call them toilets) and pee. Then even more quickly we buy our bus ticket to Belfast. This happens within 2 minutes as the bus leaves on time. The currency now has changed to pounds (£) and the fare to Belfast is £11, about $17.58 in US dollars.

The train ride is about 2 hours and the majority of it is spent passing very yellow fields. How are they so yellow and dried out when it is always raining in Ireland? Don’t get me wrong, there has been a TON of greenery here… I’m just shocked to see any dry grass whatsoever.

There are these billboards that say “Old age isn’t a problem, loneliness is” and it makes me want to cry for all the old Irish folk that are lonely. Then I see the many kegs set outside the local taverns and pubs and a string of lyrics come to mind, “I stopped by the bar at 3 am, to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend” (“Closer to Fine” – Indigo Girls). A therapeutic song, YouTube it.

I continued reading the only book I have loaded on my iPad, the second book of the trilogy series, 50 Shades of Gray… the lady a few rows up was reading it, too. Funny how those best sellers span other continents like that.

Finally, finalllllllllly, we arrive in Belfast. One of the bigger cities in Ireland. There are people everywhere, cars everywhere… it really has the hustle and bustle of city life. Urban life. We like it and we find our home at the Global Village hostel about 15 minutes walk from the bus station. I don’t know what has happened but apparently, my bag is bigger than it was. I’ll have to revise my packing strategy as I’ve only bought two tshirts?! The hostel is £55 ($88.00) for 2 people, for 2 nights. This is the way to see a country cheap people. Public transportation and hostel sleeping. You sleep in bunk beds and share bathrooms, but it’s extremely cheaper than a 4 star Hilton… and you meet other people from around the world!

We searched for a dinner spot and settled on boojum, a replica of Chipotle. But better, more eco-friendly, and their burrito bowls tasted very good. We hiked around the city and realized the Apple Store Belfast closed at 6pm. That’s a hell of a time to close?! Six!? How do they make any money? We plan to visit them tomorrow! And request a back of house tour. 🙂

The weather here is much colder than we expected. Between the 50 degrees and drizzling rain, it’s downright bitchin cold. My sweatshirt hoodie and two layers of long sleeves will have to do. A wise man once told me, “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing….”

Chelsea and I end the night sharing a bottle of wine, dark chocolate, and planning tomorrows adventures.

I got the chance to FaceTime the parents home in Minnesota and for the first time I had a pang of homesickness. It’s the people that make time for you, that I plan to make time for. Whether we’re in the same time zone or not. Technology is absolutely freaking amazing. I was able to iChat with them as I vacationed in Costa Rica a few years ago, and now as I adventure throughout Ireland.

I’ll end with a quote I read on the side of a building tonight that, for some reason, resonates with me… and very well may end up as a tattoo someday, in some form….

Today’s plan is already yesterday’s – the streets that were there are gone.

Seize the day people, you only live once,
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to the castle we go!

Our roomie from Columbia left in the wee hours this morning. We woke up slightly early and began our packing process. But not before enjoying the most fabulous cappuccinos I’ve ever had.

The weather was beautiful, slightly chilly but clear and no rain drizzles. We went back to the cafe from day one in Galway. Located on the corner of the town square. We sat outside and enjoyed a solid 45 minutes of straight people watching, sipping on our cappuccinos and basically giddy at the fact that we are on a hell of an adventure clear across the world from home.

We grabbed pain chocolat pastries (chocolate croissant) for takeaway (to-go). Coincidentally it is the best pain chocolat I’ve had. It’s true, pastries just taste better in Europe. We bought our one way ticket to Collonney (€13.50) at the bus station and said adios to Galway.

Two and a half bumpy hours later, a dozen stops along the way, we make it to the tiniest town ever, Collooney. Home of maybe 3,000 people. The bus drops us literally on the side of the road. As the bus pulls away we see Quigleys. A gas/grocery/bar/lounge. I mention that it’s a fine time to purchase some wine so we cross the street and enter. Smallest grocery in the smallest town ever. Your typical old-as-dust Irish grandpa is manning the place and he’s gosh darn adorable. We buy the only two bottles of red wine left in the place. He calls a taxi (one of four in the city), bless his heart, and we bid him farewell.

The taxi picks us up and drops us right underneath the stone archway of Markree Castle. A beautiful location with lots of history. To recap, it belongs to an untitled family named the Coopers who were gifted the land as payment for serving in some war.

Our room overlooks the back lawn with rolling landscape as far as you can see. We feel right smack dab in the middle of a Disney fairy tale.

Two separate beds, a shower and toilet all to ourselves, now this is luxury, especially after being in hostels so far this trip. Not having to wear sandals to shower? Heaven.

We drop our bags in the room. An antique desk and chair sit near the window. Chelsea braids my hair as we listen to Lady Gaga. Afterwards, we explore the grounds. Well, some of them… with 300 acres of land, we didn’t exactly cover nearly a piece of it. The castle has their own flock of pure bred fluffy white Wensleydale sheep. Of course they do. Link to sheep

On the other side of the castle we walked on the road for half hour until we arrived at the Markree Riding Stables. A dozen horses grazed the grass on top of the hill as we inquired about riding options. Tomorrow night (Sunday), there is an evening ride around the premises (€25). We agree this is a must do activity.

On our walk home a momma horse and her foal were grazing in the pasture. The baby came right on over and greeted us. I discreetly tried to come up with a way to get her thru customs and take her home with us.

I couldn’t come up with anything logical. :/

Dinner consisted of road snacks (trail mix, these hilarious things Chelsea introduced me to called Digestives, our fave traveling item Justin’s Peanut Butter), a pint of Guinness and light bar fare. We dined in the castle bar area complete with shoddy upholstery, huge windows and terrible lighting. I felt like I was a dignitary or an extra in Beauty and the Beast.

Now we drink wine, giggle like little girls and watch a movie on the iPad (probably Gladiator to match our abroad theme)… this is the perfect spot for a sleepover.

Meet us in the castle basement for scary story time at midnight?
Xo

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