In addition to touring a whole bunch of big old houses, we leisurely wandered the streets of Newport over the few days we were there. There’s something so nice about a few aimless days – eating, sleeping, walking, exploring. Good for the soul!

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Notable in Newport

  • They call milkshakes “Awful Awfuls,” and it’s one the must-do’s while visiting to go to Newport Creamery.
  • The Cliff Walk is awesome and you should definitely check it out. Head’s up: it is very much a cliff walk, so much so that at parts you’re wondering if you’ve accidentally gone rogue and shouldn’t be climbing over rocks on the edge of the sea. But rest assured, you’re on the right path.
  • Beautiful, beautiful sailboats and sunsets.
  • Obviously, the summer cottages.
  • Really fun old-timey signage and cedar shakes everywhere.
  • And that concludes my mini-tour of Newport, folks! Have you ever been? Where should we travel next? Happy Wednesday!

I had never been to New England before this trip and it’s long been on my list of travel destinations. When the opportunity popped up to visit Newport, I confess I wasn’t familiar at all with the city. We had an offer of a place to stay and some dates that worked, so the research began! I’m going to share photos and thoughts over a few posts, so today I’m talking history + houses.

Turns out, Newport is a fascinating city with a really rich history, and I’m just the kind of person who really digs that sort of thing. R sweetly gave me a book all about it that I started reading before I got there, so suffice it to say I spent lots of time recounting anecdotes from my book which I’m sure he just loved.

The Vanderbilts, Astors, and many other wealthy families at the turn of the century built opulent “summer cottages” in Newport. It was the place to be during “the season.” In the middle of the century, many of these houses were just too cumbersome for anyone to maintain (think requiring a staff of 40 people or more), so the Newport Preservation Society began trying to save many of them and open to the public. They have a great system now where you can purchase one ticket and visit five of the houses whenever you’d like. It was really nice that it didn’t have a two day limit or anything like that – you can get kind of big-house’ed out after a little while when you do so many in one day.

Marble House

Home to Alva Vanderbilt, who was quite the irreverent character. She built an authentic Chinese teahouse on her property because, you know, why not when you have millions to spare?

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The Breakers

Just…opulent. The property is amazing of course. Owned and built by much tamer Vanderbilts than ole Alva (who was a Southerner who married {and divorced} a Vanderbilt, by the way).

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Green Animals

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The gardener at this property spent his whole life training and growing these amazing topiary, and his son picked up the art too. The owner of Green Animals gave the property to the Newport Preservation Society so that her animals would never “leave through the front gate.”

The house is modest by Newport standards – really more of a true old Victorian – but get a load of that property…

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We also toured The Elms and Rosecliff. Except for Green Animals, which you need a car to get to, they are all very walkable and easy to get to from downtown Newport. It is a lovely little city in that respect – the beaches and the water and downtown all right in one area. And obviously, if you’re into history and interior design, it’s the perfect place to visit!

I already re-capped much of our NYC trip in all of its holiday splendor, but one thing I neglected to mention and should not be forgotten is the Big Apple Greeter Program.

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After having had such a wonderful time with the Chicago Greeter Program, it didn’t take any convincing at all for us to sign up for the Big Apple Greeter Program. We were lucky to be matched with a greeter, Sal, very quickly and we were instructed to call him when we arrived to the city to confirm our tour time and date.

When we arrived, snowy weather was moving in, and I called Sal to figure out the best time. Although we had planned on Monday, we decided to give it a try for Saturday based on the weather reports. He was really friendly and – of all things – had visited our home town of Mount Pleasant many times, all the way down to having friends who lived in our neighborhood. We say it all the time, but wow, small world!

The morning of our walk looked like this…

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it was cold. And snowing. Snow looks so beautiful in the pictures but I discovered it’s kind of obnoxious to walk around in. Nevertheless, Sal met us in our hotel lobby and we set off into the winter wonderland to explore.

When you sign up for a tour, you specify whether there is an area you want to see or if you’re open for the tour guide’s pick. We decided to go for the tour guide’s pick because whatever they’re the most passionate about was bound to be the most fun for everyone since we know little of the city’s neighborhoods. Sal took us to Battery Park, or “where it all began” I suppose, and we walked up from there into the Wall Street area, Chinatown, and all sorts of cool places.

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What I enjoy most about these kinds of tours is that they are much more of a conversation. There’s definitely history involved, which I love, but you can also gain such a wonderful perspective from spending a few hours with a local – what did this area used to be like? Where’s the best pizza? Is crime really better like they say it is? Do most people take subways or walk? How old would you want a kid to be before they rode the subway alone? Random questions, but there’s a whole lot of random swimming around in my head when I travel, so having someone to ask is quite handy.

Have you ever done a tour like this? Do you like to take tours when you travel or wander on your own? Little of both? Happy Monday!

Going through these photos today in 80 degree weather here in Charleston — literally, the window is open — it’s hard to believe that this was where we were only a week ago!

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I’m so glad we got to experience New York at Christmas though, and having the snowfall really only enhanced the experience. Truly, around here, we just don’t get snow. Maybe once every five years. And when we do, it doesn’t stick, so the blankets of white and frozen lakes in Central Park are pretty enchanting for a couple of Southerners.

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Of course, the city was beautiful and festive even without the snow! To round out the experience, we went to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, which was a lot of fun. It sort of seemed like a rite of passage touristy thing we had to do, and while I’ll admit it ended up being a bit more for kids than I quite realized, it was still fun and really cool to go to that venue.

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I admit defeat in the Christmas light photo taking department, and I blame it on my thin Southern blood. It was all I could do to exist in those freezing temperatures, much less bust out the tripod and wait for long exposures. But here are a few shots anyway.

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It was such a blast and I highly recommend spending a couple days in the city around the holidays. It was such a different experience from our springtime visit.

Merry Christmas friends – I hope you’re spending it with your favorite people in a warm, cozy and happy home!

We kicked off our Athens weekend off with a late lunch at a local favorite: Mama’s Boy. It opened while we were still in school, but somehow I’d never gotten there. Since we left and only really get back on gamedays, we’ve never been because it’s so popular the lines are always huge – which means it’s really good!

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Since we drove up Friday, we took the opportunity to get in there and it didn’t disappoint. I am a big fan of biscuits and they have HUGE ones.

I’ve also always loved their clean and fun logo.

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It’s not very big and on the east side of town, but you could still walk there from downtown if you wanted to. Probably better to drive although there isn’t a huge amount of parking.

Besides the biscuits as big as your head, I had a delicious BLT and they had great fries too. Good tea as well. One of the things they’re famous for is “chocolate cake for breakfast,” which is probably a big part of why they were voted the Best Breakfast in Athens by Flagpole :-)

To sum it up, I love any place with kind of quirky style and delicious Southern food. Highly recommend!

How was your weekend?

I was so fortunate to spend the end of last week + the weekend in Ponte Vedra, Florida for an annual conference with my husband’s job. The last two years, we’ve gone to Amelia Island, but this year it was somewhere new: the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club.

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Ponte Vedra is basically right next to Jacksonville Beach — so much so that in walking down the beach you will walk from one to the other — as well as Atlantic and Neptune Beach. They are all nestled right next to each other. I definitely got the impression that Ponte Vedra is the quieter area, being mostly about the gorgeous historic Inn and Club.

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I always try to detach a bit from the online world when I go away, but one morning I took my phone along to snap some photos of the property. I loved that it was a collection of buildings rather than one big giant hotel — our room was actually directly on the beach, on the first floor, so you could walk right out the back porch and have your sand in the toes in no time flat. They have an amazing spa where I splurged on a massage and it was out-of-this-world, a big racquet club (tennis was definitely a big deal), and lots of delicious restaurants.

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Of course, the designer in me fell hard for the gorgeous bright yellow scattered around the property…in the doors of the rooms, the sunny umbrellas and kayaks, and even the flowers. It just cheers you up right away.

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It wasn’t so easy to get back to work today, I have to admit, when you’ve spent the last three or four days deciding between the beach or the pool…

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…but I think I’ll survive ;-) At any rate, if you ever get a chance, this was a really lovely resort and perfect for a really relaxed getaway. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

I had La Duree macaroons the last time we went to Paris and just knew we had to have some again this go round. They really are delicious and much different than even the French style ones we have here. They say it’s in the origins of the ingredients (ie French flour) and maybe they are right! Either way, I love them.

Not only are they pretty, but they are delicious too. There are La Duree locations all over Paris and even around the world, although the only one in the States is in New York.

It’s not just about the product either – their packaging is to delightful. Beautiful bags, tiny perfectly sized boxes for scrumptious treats, and pretty paper to accompany all of it. I wish I had stopped eating it so fast to take a few more photos :-)

The first time we went we bought macaroons and took them with us, and the second time we managed to squeeze in and get a table in the tea room. I really couldn’t get a good sense of whether it was only tourists that do that or not, but there was a lot of French going on around us so it didn’t seem that way. The tea selection was actually really wonderful and we enjoyed the one we had very much.

Have you ever had La Duree macaroons or been there? What’s your favorite flavor?

I was surprised at how much I ended up loving Amsterdam.

And no, not for all the reasons people love to tease about Amsterdam. :-)

The architecture is stunning in an entirely different way from Paris. Who would have thought black buildings would be so beautiful? Especially in its more northern climate, and the gray cold day we were there, the city is breathtaking in its monochrome simplicity.

The row houses form these neat little lines, but each has a bit of character on its own, while all share a rather straightforward facade — much less ornament than we saw in Belgium, Paris, London or Italy.

Since we had such little time, we took a tour with Sandeman’s New Amsterdam Tours and had Ged as our tour guide. It’s advertised as a “free tour” but it’s actually more of a “pay what you can” scenario. I have to say, we were more than pleasantly surprised — it was a fabulous tour. Ged was an upbeat, interesting, and knowledgeable tour guide. I highly recommend it!

Houseboats and bicycles line the canals. It’s funny how this city of canals feels entirely different from a city like Venice. I did a little research, and it seems that Amsterdam’s canal rings were more planned than those of Venice — a few centuries ago, they systematically laid them out. I think Venice is more just what happens over time when there isn’t a lot of planning to it. Both have their place, but the designer in me quite loved the neatness of Amsterdam.

I kept wondering what those hooks were about. Apparently, they built their houses so narrow that getting furniture and other goods up the stairs was pretty impossible. So, they all have these hooks on the top to allow them to use a pulley system to bring items in through the windows.

I was delighted with this little sign…

..and with this awesome motorcycle…

…and this ingenious method for transporting kids and groceries.


We were only there for the day, and ended it with a train ride back to Paris which took a little under three hours if memory serves correctly. I am so glad we made the detour trip to check out a few other places because it’s pretty incredible how, only a couple hours’ train ride away, it’s an entirely different world. Even though the States have regional differences and nuances from state to state, it’s definitely not as drastic as what you find in Europe.

And on the subject of travel, hop over to Dannielle’s blog…she is embarking on a whirlwind six week tour of the US which will bring her to Charleston in early February. I am so excited to meet a fellow blogger in person and to follow along as she discovers the USA!

happy tuesday, lovelies!

We day tripped from Paris to Belgium the day after Christmas. It was the first time we’ve ever been there and it was such an easy train ride – only a little over an hour or so.

In researching, we read so many different opinions about where to go in Belgium – Brussels, Bruges, Ghent. We could only do one so we ended up picking Brussels.

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I didn’t know all that much about Belgium going into it, but I did know I had to try Belgian waffles and Belgian chocolate. I had also read about Maison Dandoy and their yummy biscuits, which are really more like cookies in my world, and they were great.

We had a hotel in the city center for the one night we stayed, and it was super easy to walk to the historical parts from there. Pretty much as soon as we started walking we came across a Maison Dandoy – there are several – and the Grand Place.

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It’s funny how, only an hour away, it’s rather a different world architecturally. There is definitely a more Bavarian flair to the buildings there….or at least what I imagine as Bavarian :-)

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One of the really famous things to see is the Mannekin Pis.

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It’s funny how this little statue has now become so famous…there are signs all over Brussels directing you how to find it. I’m all for checking off the list of touristy things to do when you visit a new place, but this one was a bit silly for me. Tons of people crowding around this funny little fountain!

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Of course, there are beautiful churches everywhere you turn.

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They have a really fun Christmas market throughout the Grand Place. I was really happy that we walked through early in the day when it was pretty quiet, because towards evening it was very crowded. I noticed that almost everywhere we’ve been in Europe – it seems more people are out and things are happening later in the day than in the States.

Also, Tin Tin is a really big deal in Belgium, as are comics in general. Here I am with the celebrity himself…

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The Rue des Bouchers is a famous street but don’t eat there. Even the hotel told us not to. It’s so narrow their awnings overlap each other and it’s certainly a sight to see with all the hustle and bustle.

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And yes, to explain my title, everywhere we went in Brussels I swear it smelled like cookies or chocolate. It would be hard for it not to considering there is a chocolate place or waffle place everywhere you look.

Oh and frites too — never in my life have I seen an exclusively fries restaurant — but they had them! We had a snack in a fritterie and were rather astonished to have to pay extra for ketchup. They considered it a sauce, not a condiment. Many Americans I know would be in trouble :-)

Overall, I really enjoyed Brussels and felt like we did a pretty good job covering it in our one day. I’m sure we missed things and we didn’t get to do the museums, but we did plenty of people watching and wandering, which is the best way to get to know a place anyway, in my humble opinion.

Last but not least, Belgian waffles really are a thing of beauty. Eggo is not even on the map.

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Happy Tuesday!

We really weren’t quite sure what to expect for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Paris. Here in Charleston, Christmas day is usually a ghost town as everyone spends time with family and friends, but not so in Paris!

This is the Christmas tree at the Galeries Lafayette, which was not only open but appropriately chaotic for the last shopping day before Christmas. Since many museums and monuments were not open that day, we decided the best people watching was probably going to be in the department stores, and Paris has some neat ones. Definitely check out the Galeries Lafayette for the beautiful interior space.

After that, we headed to Le Bon Marche, which has a gourmet grocery store called La Grande Epicerie. We stocked up on food because we weren’t sure what would be open the next day.

I LOVE going to grocery stores in other countries and places – it’s so enlightening to see real people going about their day as well as what’s available product wise. On this grocery trip, I was rather astonished to actually witness a chicken getting its head cut off…you would never see that in an American grocery store. But in reality, you know it’s fresh and unprocessed that way, don’t you?!

We had planned to spend Christmas Eve at Notre Dame, thinking we would go to the midnight mass. While wandering around in Ile de la Cite that evening, we realized there was quite a line and crowd at the front of the cathedral, so on a whim we went in. Best. Decision. Ever.

If you think you’re going to get to Notre Dame even at 9PM for a midnight mass, think again. We attended the 8PM mass and barely got seats. Promptly after that was over, some people left but most people shuffled around looking for better seats. They then showed a movie about the cathedral and gave a choir performance. It was standing room only the entire time.

Logistics aside, it was an incredibly moving experience. The first time we went to Paris, we caught the tail end of an organ performance and I never forgot how beautiful it was. Since that, we have always tried to go to a mass or vespers service just for the beauty of the music, the smell of the incense and candlelight, and the quiet time to admire the beautiful space. Spending Christmas Eve there was an experience like no other.

And then, when we emerged from the Church, we realized just how lucky we were to have gotten in and gotten a seat…

We were just in time to welcome Christmas while crossing over the Seine. Incredible.

We indulged a bit in a late morning on Christmas and then headed out to see what the city had in store. Interestingly, the Eiffel Tower is actually open even on Christmas Day. We came up to it the long way, walking all the way up from the Champs de Mars, to get the full effect, and thoroughly enjoyed the people watching. There were lots of people out and about but it wasn’t unpleasantly crowded by any means.

The closer we got, the more the sun came out, which is a much rarer thing than you realize. It was probably the sunniest moment we had the whole trip.

We actually found quite a few restaurants open, so we had a quick bite, and then headed to the Champs Elysees.

THE PEOPLE.

We popped up near the Arc de Triomphe and were astonished to see the masses of people walking the Champs Elysees. That picture hardly does the crowds justice. Even more impressive, many of the stores were open! Coming from a Southern town in the US, it was quite unthinkable to be able to buy anything in a store on Christmas Day.

At this point, the weather had turned even colder, cloudier, and rainier, and the crowds were a bit overwhelming. I get tired of having to dodge people every time I take a step (another reason I love my little home town!). So we decided “Christmas dinner at home” was the best idea after we had people-watched ourselves out.

If you read last week’s post with tips for European travel, you’ll know what a huge fan of renting an apartment I am. This is a great example when it saved us a lot of money — for Christmas Eve & Christmas Day meals, most of the good restaurants in Paris had a prix fixe option that was in the 100E+ range. Of course, most of those also required reservations.

We had decided well in advance that we didn’t particularly want to do that, and I’m glad we did. It was a lot of fun to have a tasting meal of sorts with the cheeses, meats, desserts, and other items we’d gotten during our grocery store run. Try the restaurants on a day when they aren’t charging so much extra for the holiday.

So there you have it – Christmas in Paris! It wasn’t boring like many of the articles I read had warned – quite the opposite in fact. Don’t get me wrong, stuff was definitely closed, but the city was alive with people and festivities and plenty of places were still open.

What was your Christmas like?