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!

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!

Monday is for Daydreams

Sometimes the best recommendation for a Monday is to daydream (in responsible doses that make your day better while letting you get something done in the real world… Surgeon General’s work-time warning).  Today, I’m thinking about future travel.  National Geographic is such an enabler, too.

photo by Dick Pitini and from the National Geographic website

photo by Dick Pitini and from the National Geographic website

The Dolomites?  Sure! 

I love what a combination of peaceful little hillsides and dramatic rocky mountains that is.  Wow.  I never would have put the bottom and top halves of that picture together if I hadn’t seen it here.

Remembering India

Today’s goals are all fairly mundane and non-blog-worthy–making a doctor’s appointment, unpacking a few of the very last boxes, and you get the picture.  So I’ll tell you what I’m thinking about instead.

As I look up phone numbers online, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is playing on TV.  The movie is about a group of English retirees (who don’t know each other at the start)  who move to India, where they think their retirement money will buy a better and perhaps more exciting life than it would in dear old England.

Their trip hasn’t resembled our trip to India in many ways, but I love seeing images of India again.  And there are similarities.  Some of the people in the movie are struggling with how to interact with the locals.  Who hasn’t felt that way in a culture other than their own?  Some are struggling with the food.  My stomach has definitely been there.  Some are thriving, enjoying every second of newness and smells and colors and wonderful people.

Mixed in with the wonderful people, we did hear plenty of horror stories about people while we were there.  You hear those stories when you work with women who have been rescued from the sex trafficking industry.  But in those women, we saw the beauty of hope.  There was hope in the middle of lives that should have stamped out all hope.

That’s my favorite memory of India.  There were gorgeous colors and patterns, and we stayed in a mountainous area with stunning views,  but the hope was best of all.  There was life and brightness where there should have been none.

Scott and I revisited India a week or so ago with our first curry since the trip.  It was technically a Thai curry instead of an Indian curry, and I know they’re really different.  It reminded me of our trip anyway.

Want to try it?  Thai Red Chicken Curry.  The peppers were crisp, and the basil and lime worked perfectly with the curry and the coconut.

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photo by Ellie Miller

They don’t sell curry paste at our grocery store, so I made it from scratch.  I used this recipe: Thai Red Curry Paste.  It was easy, since you basically just had to chop and mix and process (a.k.a. mix some more).  The non-easy part was finding some of the ingredients.  To remedy that, I used the sophisticated tactic of omitting those ingredients.  Which ones did I miss?  I believe that would be fresh lemongrass and shrimp paste.  I was grateful for the several substitution options that were listed in the paste recipe.

So that’s it, folks.  I’m thinking about curry and hope (and gastrointestinal distress).