Small Town Tour: Elkin, NC

On Monday, I found myself in Elkin, North Carolina with four hours to kill.  Elkin might not have been on your tourism radar because it’s a town of 4,000.  It’s also not particularly famous (to my knowledge).

Should it be on your tourism radar?  Maybe.  If it isn’t, I hope you’ll find an equally charming small town near you to explore.

So I started with a walk.  (Not really.  I really started with a chicken/bacon/barbecue sauce sandwich from heaven.  Or from 222 Public House.  But after the sandwich, I moved on to a walk.)  The little main street was so cute.  There’s a soda shop, a few downtown mainstays like a jewelry store and antique stores.  There were restaurants and a pub, not to mention a chocolate shop.  And a bookstore combined with a wine shop.  Believe me, I browsed that shop thoroughly.

Then there’s the other awesome thing about this town–the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area.

house with fenceIt is full of houses like the one above–just oozing charm and character and old house things like that.  If your house is going to ooze anything, it should definitely be charm.

There were houses with great porches, houses with fun colors, houses with quirky details.  It was kind of my “let’s take a walk” dream come true.  There were even slight hills, so you get a tiny bit of a real workout without feeling like you were getting a workout.  Like I said, dream come true.

This is the Arts Council building, complete with miscellaneous hand-painted shutters:

arts councilThis teeny tiny building is a former bank drive-through location with room for about two people to stand very still inside and drive-through options in the back:

storeIf I ever moved to Elkin and had money to throw away, I would definitely buy that teeny tiny building and make it the world’s first ever recipe advice and paper goods store.  (The recipe advice is free, but you have to pay for the notecards and art.)  With a little bit of paint on the front door and some new blinds, it would be a top notch recipe advice hut.

mural with buildingI already have proof that this town approves of art and food together, because this nice mural is on the side of what appears to be a very nice restaurant.  Unfortunately, the restaurant is closed this month for the owner’s first vacation in ten years.  Good for them, mildly disappointing for me.  Still, nice building, nice art, and their website says that they make ice cream in house.  You can’t lose with homemade ice cream.

And if I’ve convinced you to move to Elkin by this point, I have a few real estate recommendations for your viewing pleasure.

First, you have the very lovely but possibly too small for real life (with guests) cabin in the woods:

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photo from Realtor.com

Pretty perfect, in my opinion.  I’d be willing to lose some furniture to live in that cabin.

And second, you have the also small, also beautiful house in town:

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photo from Realtor.com

This house stole my heart yesterday.  You know that walk I took?  Well you pass the public library on the way away from downtown.  And you pass a cute little church with a red door.  And then you keep walking through all of those pretty houses with great porches.  And at the end of the street, just a 15-minute walk from all of that tasty downtown food, you run into this house.  I really hope somebody buys it and loves it and walks to the library every day.

And there ends our tour of Elkin, North Carolina.  With thoughts of bookstores and wine, homemade ice cream, and cute tiny houses.  It is a very nice place to spend a sunny winter afternoon.

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Capri and Zurich: Vacation Part Final

I may or may not have forgotten how many “parts” are in our vacation saga.  Regardless, this is the end of the trip.  Are you ready for an adventure?

If you’ve forgotten, we just left Positano behind with all of its not sleep and late-night hotel searches.  We got on the ferry to Capri with time to spare and gladly made our way to our favorite spot on the island–the Orsa Maggiore in Anacapri.  It’s a splurge, but it was our favorite honeymoon hotel, and it was just as wonderful this time around.

photo from isle-of-capri.net

photo from isle-of-capri.net

Our favorite spot at the hotel (a.k.a. the pool) looks like this:

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After a night of sleeping in the car and a day of adventuring up and down lots of stairs, the sunset/pool combo was the ticket.  Something about the island is just ten times more relaxing than anywhere else I can think of.  We still had our Capri sunset happy faces on the ferry back to Positano the next day:

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This was the plan for the day: first ferry Positano, drive from Positano to Zurich, stay in a cute but inexpensive hotel, go to the airport the next day for a noon-ish flight home.

This is what happened…

The first ferry of the morning wasn’t until 10 (or 9:50?) in the morning and was also not a direct ferry to Positano.  By the time we got back to our car, I think it was at least 11:30 or noon.  We weren’t worried yet.

Our drive was supposed to take eleven and a half hours, which would put us in Zurich at 11:30 at the latest.  Our hotel check-in ended at midnight.  Still okay.

Scott drove and drove and drove.  There were no problems or wrong turns or anything.  In fact, it was a pretty good road trip.

I’m usually prone to falling asleep while a passenger, which is not what you want your navigator to do.  But not this time.  This time, we created an economy of ants and scratches, and that kept me awake and helpful.

What in the world is an economy of ants and scratches?  Well, Scott loves to receive head scratches and arm scratches and back scratches, and we had about two hundred ants that found their way into our car while it was parked in Positano.  I started smushing ants left and right, then I figured it should be a winning activity for me and for Scott.  So each smushed ant equaled one unit of arm or neck scratches for Scott.  He could redeem his scratches whenever he wanted, but if he left them until the airport, all remaining units came back to me.

Stupid game?  Yes.  Effective?  Surprisingly, also yes.

So Scott is driving, and I’m killing ants (which got more challenging after dark).  Then we got to the longest tunnel in Switzerland–the Gotthard Road Tunnel.

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some other tunnel in Switzerland

On the way down, it was open.  On the way back, it was closed for repair, adding an hour or two of steep mountain roads to the drive.  It was also dark and rainy.

Poor Scott.  By the time we got through the pass, we had given up on our Zurich hotel and opted for a quick roadside nap instead.  Then we hit the road one last time.

As we were getting close to the airport exit in Zurich (2 AM-ish), a car pulled in front of us.  There was no one else on the road so that seemed a little bit odd.  Then that car started flashing words at us from the back window.  Kind of like this:

image from presseportal.de

image from presseportal.de

It was an unmarked car, and I believe the phrase was “Bitte folgen polizei.”  Lucky for us, it translated into English after a few rounds of German.  “Please follow police.”  We had a very tired discussion of whether it was a general warning or a specific request, and the car pulled over.  We pulled over just in case it was actually police.

Long pull-over story short, it was the most polite interaction I’ve ever had with police of any nation.  They were just checking on us because it was 2 AM, and no one is really out on the road at that time of night.  They wanted to make sure we were okay.  Nice Swiss polizei.  We made our way back onto the road and to the airport, where we settled in for a 10-hour wait.

Scott is skilled in the craft of sleeping in public, but I’m not so great at that.  I opted instead to read The Fault in Our Stars in one sitting.  That wasn’t my best choice ever.

The book was a freebie at our Capri hotel (yay for the Take One/Leave One book area in the lobby), but I should have known better.  Reading an entire book about teenagers with terminal cancer after a day like that?  Definitely a mistake.  Next time, I’ll go in search of a book about cute puppies who like cuddling next to pretty flowers or something.

Anyway, Scott and I left Switzerland feeling like we had failed at the whole vacation thing.  But you know what?  After a few months, it has gained a glow of adventure and lost the pain of no sleep.  There was definitely more fun than sad.  In retrospect, I declare our trip a total success.

The end.

Positano: Vacation Part 5

With a 5 (or 6 or 7) part vacation, you would think we were there for a month.  We just had a lot we wanted to see, and we were feeling ambitious.  You may or may not remember that our last stop before Positano was Modena, with a seven-hour drive between the two.  We planned the trip thinking all of our Ferrari adventures in Modena would be finished in one day, and we would leave early the next day.  Our early departure turned into a 3 or 4 PM departure, thanks to my fine navigational skills the day before and a rescheduled Ferrari tour.  Leaving at 3 wouldn’t be a problem if our hotel had late-night check-in.  Our hotel didn’t have late-night check-in.

It’s kind of a long story from there.  We drove as quickly as we could, and we arrived around 11 after attempting to contact Wanda with marginal success to beg her to let us check in late.  She didn’t feel comfortable speaking English, but to her credit, she stayed for a long time even though she didn’t know what we were saying.  I think we missed her by about 15 minutes or less.

The long version of the story includes a detailed account of me accidentally stalking the inhabitant of the first floor apartment and us trying to figure out which balcony would be ours.  You know, just in case Scott could climb onto the balcony and break in from outside without actually breaking in.  Neither option worked, so we ended up sleeping in the car until sunrise.  Ta da!  That’s the short version of the story.

We trekked back up the hill first thing in the morning to Wanda’s Casa and checked in for a nap and a shower.  We loved our hotel, even if we were only there for two hours.  Wanda was friendly and apologetic, and we would go back in a heartbeat.  But we would definitely get there earlier for check-in.

The good news?  Well, other than really liking Wanda (whose real name we did know for a few hours), we did get to wake up in the car with this view:

IMG_0365After our nap, we felt pretty darn human again, and we moved on to more traditional vacation adventures.  Like admiring the local pottery/planters:

IMG_0369And this little alley:

IMG_0387And this:

IMG_0377The waiter at Buca di Bacco seated us at the very same table we ate at three years earlier on the first night of our European honeymoon adventure (even without any plotting or requesting on our part).  It was still delicious, and the view was still wonderful.

Then we started the hike we took on said honeymoon.  We knew finishing that hike would be impossible.  It’s supposedly a 4-hour hike that we somehow stretched into 7 hours.  I think we added an extra vertical piece of hiking and some extra mileage at the end.  Or something.  We aren’t that slow, but we knew ahead of time it would be an abbreviated hike.

IMG_0388My pizza belly didn’t want to go up there.

IMG_0398But it did.

I may or may not have harassed Scott on the hike, because I was kind of terrified that we would miss the last ferry to Capri for that night’s hotel reservation.  Yeah, I definitely harassed Scott.  Poor Scott.  The good news is that we made the ferry with at least 10 minutes to spare.  Whew.

And we said goodbye to Positano for the day.

IMG_0425Bye, Positano!

Cars ‘n Things in Modena (Vacation Part 4)

Okay, let’s pretend that it’s early September in Italy.  (I finally emailed myself a few more vacation photos, so it’s time for another step in the vacation saga.)  We’ve visited Switzerland briefly.  We’ve hiked through 4/5 of the Cinque Terre.  We’ve eaten a ton of good food.

Now it’s on to Modena.   We made it from the Cinque Terre to Modena with relatively few bumps along the way.  We were an hour early for our tour appointment.  An hour early!  Do you know how insanely early that is for us?  It’s like being a day early for most people.

Anyway, we were an hour early at the wrong location.  We had a big day planned, which included a tour at the Ferraro factory in Maranello, a visit to the Ferrari museum in Maranello, a test drive of a Ferrari in Maranello, and a visit to the other Ferrari museum in Modeno.  We knew that we went to the wrong museum first, but it’s a 20-minute drive from one museum to the other, so we figured we would go to the easy to find one, get directions for the hard to find location, and avoid getting lost and frustrated.

Except that we ended up getting lost and frustrated.  There were roads under construction and therefore not in use.  There were maps that were so fuzzy that I could only make out one word in 50.  There were lots and lots of roads with no signage.  It wasn’t pretty.  So much for that tour appointment.  We rescheduled it for the same time the next day (earliest option), tried to get over the intense feelings of frustration and sadness that happened as a result of our hour in the car trying madly to get to the right museum, and looked at some pretty cars in museums.

I’m not a car buff, but even I was awed by some of the cars.  Their designs were so beautiful, and the thought that went into each part to make it a stronger, faster vehicle is pretty impressive.

As usual, there was some good Italian food for dinner, followed by a walk around town.  Only this time, our walk around town ran us right into the outdoor rehearsal for an opera program that was taking place the next night.  It was some kind of program that included all Pavarotti music.

It was so much fun!  I think I might actually prefer the rehearsal to the formal program.  We got to hear the director stop songs to make changes and got to see the musicians goof around a teeny tiny bit (they were pretty professional).  It was definitely more relaxed that way, and it was beautiful music.  Beautiful and relaxed is just right in my book.  All in all, I highly recommend bumping into outdoor opera rehearsals whenever possible.

As you can tell, we survived the day of not going on our tour and woke up the next day all excited about fixing our mistake and enjoying some awesome cars.  We were so on time for that tour.

We also saved Scott’s super awesome birthday fun for the second day of cars.  He test drove a Ferrari, and he liked it a lot.  This is us pretending to be fancy before the test drive.  You know, just about to go for a drive on a sunny day in our ridiculously nice car:

see-through car parts

photo by Pit Lane photographer folks

Still with the Sunday drive pretending:

sideways fun

photo by Pit Lane photographer folks

Then Scott got down to the business of almost driving:

lookin' hard

photo by Pit Lane photographer folks

Then he gained a co-pilot (also known as Alessandro, the guy who told him where to turn and when to slow down):

gettin to the good stuff

photo by Pit Lane photographer folks

And moved towards an actual road:

good stuff 1

photo by Pit Lane photographer folks

Put on his best, most serious driving face:

serious face

photo by Pit Lane photographer folks

And he proceeded to have a really fantastic time driving too fast through small towns in Italy.  We all lived happily ever after (or at least until our drive to Positano).  But that’s another adventure.

The Cinque Terre (Vacation Part 3)

Our next stop after a few days in Lugano was the Cinque Terre–Riomaggiore specifically.  Never heard of it?  Well, the Cinque Terre is a national park area in Italy that surrounds some villages along the coast.  I used to think that a couple of the villages were only accessible by foot.  After hiking there and seeing tour groups, I doubt that information a bit.  Maybe the tour groups arrived by boat.  Maybe they arrived by hovercraft.  Anyway, the villages are tucked along the cliff, and they’re beautiful.

We started with a good sunset and some food.   It’s a pretty ideal way to get acquainted with any new town, in my opinion.

IMG_0134We continued the next morning with my favorite hike of the trip.  It didn’t quite stretch between all five villages.  We started at the southernmost village, Riomaggiore.

map from cinqueterre.mrvisitor.com

map from cinqueterre.mrvisitor.com

IMG_0117I spent a lot of time guesstimating how long it would take for plants to get that awesome at our house.  I think the answer for the things-growing-out-of-rocks plants is never.  Boo for different climates.

IMG_0124The main trail along the edge of the coast was closed between the first two villages, so we hiked up and over the mountains instead of around the edge of the mountains.  It was actually pretty satisfying.  I believe this church was in Manarola, but honestly, the cute little villages all melded to one or two overall impressions in my brain by the end of the day.  They’re all nice.

IMG_0150So is this cat.  Creative use of mostly empty plant holders, right?

IMG_0153And of course there were olives next to the path.  Lots of agricultural areas outside of the towns, actually.  I decided that if Scott was out farming our plot of land, he would get a different number of visits/cold tea deliveries depending on how long the hike was from home.  Some of those plots of land were at least an hour hike from the nearest semblance of civilization.  Whew.  (If you’re wondering, the breakdown was as follows: daily visits/tea if the hike was less than 20 minutes one way, two-three visits a week if the hike was between 20 minutes and 45 minutes, once a week tops if the hike is over 45 minutes one way.  Because I’m mean and indoorsy.)

IMG_0160This garden kicked our garden’s butt this summer.  So many tomatoes!

IMG_0157Oooh, and this is the house we picked for ourselves.  Or the yard that goes with the house.  It had another large chunk of yard on the other side of the hiking trail, and it had great garden land all around the house.  And if memory serves, it was relatively close to town.  Whew.  Frequent tea delivery for Scott.  We like to get really involved in vacation.

IMG_0166We also like to look at crystal clear water.  Scott likes to dangle dangerously over said water.  I do not.  Thus only one pair of feet.

IMG_0186This lady understands my foot-dangling fears.

IMG_0180So I believe we’re three villages into our journey at this point.  The cliff-side trails were still closed to this village, so we’ve hiked and stumbled down mountain stairs and hiked some more.  It was fun, but my knees are getting old.  To console our not quite happy knees (or mine), we had the world’s best trail beverages–lemon granita and some super cold sangria.  I have never once considered drinking sangria on the trail, but it was pretty fantastic.  Don’t tell the real hikers.  I’m fairly certain granita and sangria are not athlete-approved sources of refreshment mid-hike.

IMG_0196The cold beverages did get us safely to our last stop, Vernazza.  True, we missed the fifth of the five villages.  I didn’t mind.

IMG_0211Instead of hiking to that last village, I sat by the water for an hour.  There was a constant stream of running kids behind me on the beach, and by the end of the hour, they had plucked every bit of living plant matter from the pier and placed it on their sandcastle.  I was pretty impressed.

IMG_0241And I dangled my feet some more.

IMG_0244Scott decided to be athletic instead, so he kayaked around a bit.

IMG_0238When we were both finished with our water adventures, we called it a day with some food.  Naturally.

IMG_0254And struck out for another adventure the next morning.

IMG_0258On to Modena!

Lovely Lugano (Vacation Part 2)

After we met our rental steed and drove through a few alps, we stopped for a day and a half in my favorite town of all–Lugano, Switzerland.

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That’s my favorite tree-lined lakeside walk.  With my favorite red benches.

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Those colors are amazing.  Nothing but sunshine, lake, and Lugano-ness there.  And once you’ve soaked that all in (or tried very insufficiently to do so), there’s a really nice hike to the right of what you’re seeing in this last picture–Monte San Salvatore.  If you’re Scott and not Hannah, there’s even some climbing to do.

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If you’re moderately in shape (meaning not in shape at all), the hike takes between two and two and a half hours on the way up and about an hour on the way down.  If you’re in good shape, you can probably float to the top on muscles and memories of the lake.  It’s a nice hike, and you get to see this at the top:

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And eat this at the bottom:

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The Tourist bar was originally purchased by me as a joke for my roommate.  “Hey look, it says ‘Tourist’ in giant gold letters!”  That kind of joke.  But the Tourist bar played a joke on me instead–a delicious joke.  I opened it just to try it out on the way home from the grocery store (a 5-minute walk at the time), and I had finished the entire full-size chocolate bar before I got to the apartment.  Ha.  You win, Tourist bar.  Trust me, it’s good.

So now that you’ve enjoyed the lakeside, the mountains, and memories of chocolate, it’s time for some town goodness.

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Yep, that kind of town goodness.  Sure, it’s the Louis Vuitton building, and I could never in my life think about buying anything inside of said building.  That doesn’t make it sad though.  That makes it excellent window-shopping territory.  There’s nothing sad about looking into a nice window and enjoying the incredible building around that nice window.  Check out the details:

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You know what else is high-quality?  This guy:

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Scott got this lovely shot by pretending to take a very close-up picture of me.  Nope.  Just capturing the Village People come to life.

So really, I can’t think of a place I love more than Lugano.  There’s natural beauty, man-made beauty, and even ridiculous people-watching.  It’s a triple threat.  We got pretty lucky with our timing, too.  There was a film festival (all in Italian) in the piazza outside of our hotel.  There’s the world’s best grocery store (Manor) with the world’s best views (both available year-round, thank goodness).  I highly recommend a visit there if you ever get a chance.

My favorite quote of the trip was sometime near the end of our full day in Lugano, when Scott said, “The only sad thing about Lugano is that we have to leave it.”  Agreed, sir.

Welcome to Switzerland!

Doesn’t this picture look like a ridiculous made-up rest stop from a movie?

IMG_0028That was our first “Man, that was a long flight” stop on our vacation adventure, complete with my favorite Swiss beverage–sparkling apple juice.  I think that picture captures Switzerland fairly well.  Everything is neat and tidy and ridiculously good-looking.

This was our faithful steed:

IMG_0029Turns out that a Seat (pronounced more like “See ott” than “seat”… we think) is a Spanish version of my car at home, so we just had a grand international time.  And that gets you through the first four hours of our trip.  Ta da!  Welcome to vacation!!  Welcome to Switzerland!