Friday, January 26, 2018

A South Korean Scrubdown

Teens at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul
There's an amazing episode of Parts Unknown from a few years back in which Anthony Bourdain goes to South Korea. The whole episode is told in reverse, beginning with a punishing hangover, and then rewinding through the delirious consumption of gallons of soju and Korean lager as the viewer pieces together what could have led to us finding Bourdain, grey-faced and miserable, having every inch of his body intimately and punishingly scrubbed raw in a blue tiled bath house. I get a sympathy headache every time I watch it. So logically, I decided I MUST visit South Korea, and while there, that I must strip naked and allow a stranger to remove my top three layers of skin with a brillo pad.

We spent nine days in the country, reveling in its color, vivacity, and silliness. Especially after spending a few weeks in Japan, where everything is beautiful and subtle but also formal and often solemn, in South Korea, it felt like you could dance on the table and no one would scold you. In three days in the city of Gyeongju, we stumbled on two different outdoor music festivals, each boasting an army of backup dancers and an entire slate of different artists. This was in the 43rd most populous city in South Korea.

It's hard to explain the pervasiveness of South Korean spa culture to westerners, who generally prefer to bathe within the confines of their own home. For Koreans, visiting a spa is a weekly or even daily excursion--families take their children; young adults go together on first dates; salarymen go to nap off their hangovers. For around $10, you can buy a 24-hour pass to a jjimjilbang (helpfully shortened to j-bang colloquially), and spend as long as you like hopping between the myriad different wet and dry saunas. I have heard whispers of backpackers skipping hotels altogether and just staying at the j-bang. They must have very clear pores.

CommonGround, a mall made from 200 blue shipping containers and selfie center for Seoul teens
Every morning in Seoul, my husband and I would declare that THIS was the day we were going to a spa-- and then chicken out, deciding instead to shop for niche Korean leather goods or eat sulbing at an outpost of the Korean Dessert Café or investigate one of the many excellent microbreweries and tap rooms popping up all over the city.

The old Magpie Brewing in Hongdae, Seoul
The last city of our trip was Busan, South Korea's second largest. It's a big city, but it's on the beach and has a cool, laid-back vibe. By the time we got there, I couldn't really remember why I had added it to our itinerary--and allotted it as many nights as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Seoul--but it was FULL of galleries and incredible temples, and our time there also involved a cable car, which means I award it a special bonus of one million points. Busan ended up being our favorite place in either country. It is also where we went to Spaland.

Gamechon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea
SPALAND! It's a real place! It's in the biggest mall in the world, Centum City! It has 22 spas and 13 different themed saunas, and one is called the wave-dream room! In another room, I felt like a piece of flatbread in a clay oven! There is a TV room and also you can buy beer with the bracelet on your wrist!

When you arrive, you pay $12 and they give you a locker key and a cotton suit that looks like scrubs if you could get scrubs with knee-length shorts. Women get maroon and men get khaki, and no one has ever looked more glamorous. You head to your respective locker room, stow everything you own, and give yourself a pre-sauna hose down. Then, you don the spa scrubs and head back out into the co-ed section of this spa-tropolis. (Me-spa-polis? I'll work on it.) There is a giant moonscape of outdoor wading foot spas with little wooden booths, where teenaged Korean couples sit side-by-side playing games on their phones and taking selfies.

Further into the enormous complex, we tried all the saunas-- the ice room, the pyramid room, the "body-sound" room, the room built entirely of pink salt bricks. All of these rooms would be excellent places to take artsy Instagram photos, except you're sweating and wearing scrubs and no bra. Finally, our confidence bolstered after a couple hours of watching everyone to make sure we weren't committing any grievous cultural errors, we separated back to our gendered baths.

Here's where I have to make an admission. I like to pretend that I am someone who is spontaneous and confident and always up to try something new; that I am someone with no problem sashaying my way through a 5,000 square foot bath complex in the altogether, surrounded by dozens of Korean women of every age. That I am so secure and open-minded that saddling up next to a stranger whose skin has shriveled and wrinkled from soaking and sitting there, staring at the wall, feels freeing and natural. But guys, at first I was really intimidated. I switched on a mantra ticker in my head that kept repeating, "You will not be the oldest nor the youngest; the biggest nor the smallest; you are not notable in anyway; you will never see anyone here again." And it was true! I do not think I have ever seen anyone from the womens' baths at Spaland again, and also I wouldn't know if I did, because I did not make eye contact with anyone for the entire hour!

The number of people who were not staring at me in the j-bang
Finally, after marinating in all sorts of pools of varying temperatures, salted and freshwater, indoors and out, I sucked it up and walked (naked!) into what was essentially a completely tiled office to inquire about a scrub. I am laughing remembering this, because it was that dream where you're in a new school and you don't know anyone and you need to ask questions, but you're not wearing any clothes, but this was real life, and also everyone only spoke Korean and I am six feet tall.

Through pointing at a menu of services, helped by a very kind woman who understood there were not many reasons I would be wandering into an office asking questions in no clothes, I ended up on one of a row of massage tables staffed by women in black bras, underwear, and shower slides. I had opted for the scrub that included the facial treatment, so she blessedly lathered my whole face with a thick mask, and my eyes were closed for the rest of the experience. And then she scrubbed me within an inch of my life. She muscled me around like she was trussing a chicken, and when it was all done, a plucked chicken is what I felt like. Like, I used to have freckles, and then I got this scrub. I didn't have to shave for weeks because every hair anywhere on my person had been sloughed away. I think I lost three pounds of skin. Finally, she rinsed away my mask, hosed me and the table down, and sent me on my way. I was grinning, half from the surreality of it all, and half because I felt like I had been powerwashed. I also felt like a champ, because despite all of my dithering and insecurities, I was now the sort of traveler who gets a full body scrub at a Korean j-bang. Hear me roar! Just let me put my maroon short-set back on first.

Bonus cable car!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tokyo Means Sushi for Breakfast

Even with the benefit of jet lag, I am not a morning person, so let’s be real: there was no way I was going to the tuna auction at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, where people line up at 3am to get one of 120 spots to watch dudes buy super expensive fish in a warehouse-sized walk-in fridge. So on our first morning in Tokyo, I felt pretty good about our 6:30 wake up. I showered in the tiny cube of a bathroom, plastic-walled so everything could be hosed down. I dressed for suffocating heat and humidity, and I spent more than a little time looking very closely at my face in the mirror in search of new fine lines and wrinkles, as the dawn had brought along with it my 31st birthday.
Lotuses bigger than my FACE (and tbh I have a big face)
Armed with our wifi egg to give us the Immeasurable Wealth of the Internet (and to power Google Translate, thank God), we set off past the lake of lotuses at Ueno Park toward the subway, leery of tales of people packed like sardines (excuse me, like iwashi.) We were ready for crowded trains—We’ve lived in New York and studied in Moscow, where the Russian train conductors like to keep you on your toes by opening and closing the doors while the train is still in motion. It’s very exciting.

As it was morning rush hour, we were ready to squish. The train streaked into the station, and we stepped into the door that opened in front of us. I looked around. There seemed to be a whole lot of women. Like, only women. “Jared,” I said, “Are these cars separated by gender?” Which is when my 6’3”, heavily bearded husband noticed the pink sign indicating that we were in the Women Only car. Excuse me, all my friends who have traveled in Japan: Why did no one warn me that there are Women Only cars on the Tokyo subway?! We made it back out to the platform with seconds to spare and stood there panting, looking somewhere between shocked and relieved, as the train pulled out of the station, all the white button downs and black pants of the Japanese salary men and women blurring into two solid contrasting lines as the cars gained speed.

We got onto the next train and into an appropriate car without incident, and finally strolled through the gates of the fish market around 8:30. Tiny carts with what looked like trash cans topped with steering wheels sped around us in every direction on the wet asphalt. Awnings and banners hung from sushiya storefronts, still in the morning heat. And let me be honest about something: it smelled like fish. Very fresh fish, but still fish. Just so you can’t say I didn’t warn you.
The sweaty line at Sushi Daiwa
We found our destination, Sushi Daiwa, by the line, a snake of forty or so patrons packed tight to try and fit in the small patch of shade afforded by the roof’s overhang. As we shuffled forward, sweat started running down my back in rivulets. When I was suitably wilted and Jared had soaked through his tshirt, we were ushered inside.

The spot is long and very narrow, with twelve stools at the sushi counter, and no room for the chefs to even switch spots as they work. There’s no ordering involved here, because your presence indicates you’re having the omakase, which is hot green tea, a deliciously briny miso soup with tiny clams, and eight pieces of excellent sushi: buttery otoro (think the Wagyu beef of tuna), perfect, shiny white squid, a mountain of silky uni, a pearly pink shrimp, tiny rolls with tuna and with salmon roe, a rosy slab of chutoro, a silvery slice of horse mackerel, and a sponge of baby eel. And a giant 9am Asahi, because most of the people in the Tsukiji Fish Market have been awake long enough that it’s functionally happy hour, and because they’re reasonable people.
Asakusa Temple, in case you have forgotten you're in Japan
We were done eating in 15 minutes, ushered out the back door into the middle of the market stalls selling all things briny, spiny, spiky, and scaly. Our next stop was Asakusa Temple, and we headed out into the concrete and neon wilds of Tokyo confident that sushi for breakfast had cured our jet lag. Later that afternoon, a 30-minute power nap accidentally became a six-hour doze, but for those brief sunny birthday morning minutes, I was full and proud of myself for getting up early and eating the eel and surviving the Tokyo subway during the morning commute, and things were very good.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Timeless Thailand: Floating Raft Houses in Khao Sok National Park

Yes, Thailand can look like this (which was taken in Koh Samui)
 Sure, Thailand has some wildly gorgeous white sand beaches with cute Australian bartenders making vibrant fruity cocktails and shacks on the sand where you can buy the best noodles of your life for two dollars. But my favorite part of the country is Khao Sok, a national park comprised of a dense tangle of jungle a little over 300 miles south of Bangkok.

Because we visited Thailand on our honeymoon, we uncharacteristically stayed at five star hotels all over the country—and this is a place to do that, because even the bougiest places have rooms for under $200 a night. But there are no JW Mariotts in Surat Thani, a hub town built mostly of parking lot that tourists only buzz through on their way to either the jungles or the islands, so we stayed at a concrete box called the S Tara Grand. It was $30 for the night. When we walked in, there was an illustrated sign that said “No Smoking No Pet No Durian.”

Overall, very good advice, I think
We got hour long foot massages at the spa in the lobby, occasionally visited by a little gecko. Then we had some (delicious) noodles and a large Chang beer in the restaurant, which was empty except for us and a young Thai couple with a newborn, and turned in early to prepare for our adventure the next morning.

This was Christmas Eve. It was surreal and funny and magical and there was blessedly no durian.
is this what heaven looks like?
At six the next morning, a van picked us up at the hotel to drive into the jungle. The driver wished us Merry Christmas and offered no explanation for the teenage girl asleep in the front seat. About an hour into the ride, he dropped her off on the side of the road, and as we drove away I watched out the back window as she began to set up a food stall. (Getting into cars with strangers and riding until they motioned for us to get out was a real theme in Thailand. In these situations, I usually say something to Jared like, “At least if this is how we die, it’s an interesting story,” which I do not think he finds particularly reassuring.)

After some time and a stop at a Thai 7-11 for coffee and teeth-crackingly crunchy snacks, we pulled up to a Jungle themed treehouse hotel very well camouflaged in the middle of the jungle. Here, we had breakfast and then got into another van driven by a stranger who told us to call him “Big Man” (it was an appropriate moniker), who turned out to be our guide for the ensuing adventure. We drove to Cheow Lan Lake, left the vast majority of our worldly possessions in the back of the van, and got into a long tail boat. It was pouring rain as we took off into a magical world out of Fern Gully or Jurassic Park; Khao Sok is older than the Amazon.

Two hours later and soaked to the bone, we arrived at our floating raft houses. A thatched roofed, open walled dining space opened off of the long-tail boat parking lot. Two bright yellow kayaks floated in the green water, and a long line of wooden huts stretched along a rough-hewn walkway built of planks lashed together with rope. Inside each hut was a queen-sized mattress and a tent of mosquito netting. The bathroom was up a hill and we were told there were only two hours of electricity a night.
Big Man builds some ducks
Almost immediately upon arrival, Big Man loaded us back into the long tail boat and we headed out on a hike. After snaking through muddy trails, we came to a cave, which he helpfully told us would have water “to here,” indicating his waist, “to here,” indicating his chest, and “to here,” holding his hand above his head. I spent 45 minutes feeling like a badass aquatic version of SpiderMan, shimmying up pitch black waterfalls and swimming between slick boulders, before Big Man shined his flashlight on a wall to kindly illuminate a spider bigger than my head. And then we entered the bat cave.
hard pass on the bats, thanks
There were just millions of bats hanging around stalactites. I did not prefer the bats myself, but Rosa, the seven year old German girl in our group, plowed ahead gleefully at Big Man’s side.
A haiku:
Dirty hand, cold Chang
It's Khao Sok in a nutshell
Yes please, I'll take two
After two more hours of hiking, which included Jared wiping out down a muddy hill and finding a leech setting up shop on his ankle, and me being a super cool and fearless lady explorer who would charge anywhere through this verdant jungle as long as the bouncing seven year old and a guide doing the whole hike barefoot led the way, our long tail sliced back through the still waters to our huts. We drank some Changs on our tiny front porch and then dove right into the water for a swim. Toucans and macaques spotted the prehistoric trees. For dinner, we shared a whole fish with a Parisian couple who explained the underground Paris rap scene to us in French. It was still Christmas. At 10pm, our two hours of electricity expended, the string lights clicked off and we fell asleep in the middle of a profound darkness.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Do the Grk: White Wine on Korcula, Croatia

this is what your life looks like all the time too, right?
Let me tell you about a place: It’s an island. The old town is all made of winding corridors of white stone. Purportedly, it was the birthplace of Marco Polo. Now Bill Gates docks his mega yacht in its marina. The signature dish is dumplings in truffle cream sauce. There is a bar atop a stone turret that you enter by climbing a ladder, and where the drinks are served via pulley system. And forty minutes out of the town center by bike, there are a few little vineyards that are the only places in the world you can get Grk, a tingy white wine made from grapes that only grow in the sandy soil of this little spit of land.

surprisingly this scene was not animated by Disney
We very nearly didn’t make it to this place, which is called Korčula (pronounced CORE-chu-la), and is one of thousands of islands along the whimsically named Dalmatian Coast. Some combination of road closures and torrential downpours nearly stranded us in Dubrovnik; we missed two ferries and eventually had to take a long and bumpy bus ride up the coast of Croatia. The bus itself eventually drove onto a ferry to make the crossing from the mainland, so that should give you some sense of how large this watercraft was. It was dwarfed by the yachts as we pulled into the marina.

What we found as we stepped off the boat was my favorite place in Croatia. Downtown felt like a mini Dubrovnik, minus the hordes of Game of Thrones fans searching for landmarks from King’s Landing. The al fresco restaurants down small stone alleyways reminded me of Greece. The late summer special around the Adriatic is black truffle, and I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t have something truffled for dinner every night for a week.

kayaking to work off all that truffle cream sauce
On our last day on the island, we rented bikes and rode the four or so miles to Lumbarda, the wine making town south of the marina. We were seeking Grk, mostly because I think the name is funny and if someone tells me this is the only place in the world I can do something, I’m sold. We turned off at the first rough hewn, hand painted “Grk” sign we saw, and wheeled our bikes past low stone walls, up a road that wound through fields of green vines, until we arrived at a terrace masked by winding tendrils and hanging leaves. A few wooden picnic tables sat empty overlooking the acres of vineyards, dotted with red-roofed buildings. A big, tired white mutt lounged in the open doorway.

team grk!
As we entered the small tasting room, a guy in his early thirties poked his head around a wall and greeted us as though he’d invited us to stop by anytime. “Want to taste some wine?”

As he pulled bottle after bottle of Grk (pronounced “Gerk,” which I find very amusing), Pošip, and the red Plavac Mali from the shelves, he chatted about his family’s history of running the vineyard. The dog, whom we learned was 18, had heard it all before, and kept napping at the entrance. Eventually, the proprietor father showed up and said something to his son, who suddenly sprinted from the premises, yelling back that he had forgotten his mother somewhere and had to go retrieve her.

les vines and les clouds
Though the day had been gorgeous, dark clouds were starting to gather on the horizon, but we were unfazed as we had five hours until our ferry to Split, and nothing else planned past the short bike ride back into town. We settled on the terrace with a decanter of Grk and our books, willfully forgetting our near disastrous experience with the Croatian summer rainstorms in Dubrovnik. And then the skies opened.

hello from the other side
We moved nearly as quickly as the ancient dog to get back inside, reassuring each other that this would pass in plenty of time to get home on our bikes. Hours passed. We slowly drank another bottle of wine. And then we had to face the music. And by face the music, I mean construct full suits out of trash bags and ride four miles back into town in the pouring rain tipsy and barefoot.

As we coasted back into Korčula town soaked and wearing bright blue garbage bag capes, a mega yacht called Paraffin was gliding into the marina. I Googled the Paraffin on our plebian ferry to Split, which we made in plenty of time (not to brag, but we even got window seats.) It’s 160 meters long and sleeps 12. It’s owned by the scion of Yankee Candle Company. You can rent it for $410,000 a week.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Vegetarian Gluttony in Friedrichshain, Berlin

the park next to our Friedrichshain apartment. overwhelming hipness.
Friedrichshain is too hip for me. Everyone is young and cool and wearing interesting clothes and riding a bike while carrying a guitar and drinking a helles from a stubby. The apartment we rented for a month lent one of its building walls to a street art park, so the landscape would change overnight. Over the course of the month we stayed there, our façade started white and ended completely covered in a mural of Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Hendrix, and Arnold Bocklin.

our welcoming committee
Berlin, and Friedrichshain in particular, is perfect for vegetarians and vegans. You can stuff yourself cheaply, which is basically my idea of heaven. So go to the corner store, buy a 1€ beer, have them open it with the bottle opener they keep at every cash register in this eminently reasonable and enjoyable city, and take a long stroll through this lively young part of town. (You can’t do this all in one day unless you eat like Michael Phelps, so choose wisely.)

cuteness matters
Go to Silo. Order the Master Wolf Cold Brew, which is served in a crystal rocks glass with one giant ice cube, like good scotch. Have the Avocado Smashed Toast with manchego and poached eggs (give the bacon to a friend and watch them suddenly become a better friend. It’s one of the magical powers that come with vegetarianism.) Read your book, absorb the hipness.

Go to Aunt Benny. Have the iced Americano, which is made with coffee ice cubes so your drink doesn’t get diluted. Have a toasted bagel with jalapeno red onion cream cheese. Sit outside, be impressed with the cool young parents who just strap their kids to their bikes and still manage to look insouciant.

vegan + doner = voner. VERY CLEVER
Go to Voner. Doners are huge in Berlin—and I mean that they are both very popular and enormous. Voner makes one so big that I would split it with my 200+ pound husband and we’d both be full. And it’s vegan, so even though you are stuffed, somehow you will still have room to feel smug. There’s even a Bikram yoga studio around the corner, so I guess you could do that first, though after a few classes I decided Bikram is the Emperor’s New Clothes of workouts, except instead of being naked I was just really sweaty and couldn’t stop thinking about how much I could have accomplished in 90 minutes in a weight room.
the end of our street, aka the view on the way to Voner
Go to Hot Dog Soup. Hot Dog Soup is a genius establishment that is the size of the interior of a Peugeot. I’ll give you two guesses what they serve. You can feed two for under 10€, including beer. They have vegan hot dogs, and several of their daily soups are also always meat-free. We can order any sort of food at any time of day in New York and have it delivered to our door, but you would not believe how often I say to Jared, “Man, I’m really in the mood for Hot Dog Soup,” and then get sad that this weird little anomaly is so far away.

Go to Lemongrass. The best Thai food I’ve had outside of Thailand is in Berlin. Good Thai food is light and zingy, and while there’s a time and place for the greasy, heavy sponge of American Thai takeout (like, around noon after a night on the town in the dead of winter, while sitting on the couch in your pajamas watching a DVRed episode of the Amazing Race), Lemongrass has the delicate, aromatic curries that remind you that Thai can be a warm-weather cuisine. Also, it goes really well with Hefeweisse, so Thai in Berlin just makes sense.

Go to Spatzel & Knodel. While Berlin is great for vegetarians, German food is full of meat. Spatzel & Knodel is your classic dark-wood paneled German haunt where you can get giant plates of spatzel (little noodle-like dumplings, usually with cheese and caramelized onion) or my personal favorite German vegetarian option, the Huge Bread Ball (technical name: Semmelknodel.) They are literally made of old bread soaked in milk, squished up into a ball, sauted in butter, and covered in gravy. If you’re looking to murder someone, dump them in a river, and have them sink straight to the bottom, no need to encase their feet in cement. Just feed them a Semmelknodel and a couple of pints of Dunkelweisse. This is winter food, so save it for one of those chilly Berlin nights.

sometimes for fun we match our beers to our hair colors
Go to Hops and Barley. It’s basically next door to Spatzel & Knodel, and it’s a raucous microbrewery that also makes an awesome cider, in case you need a break from German beer.

Go to Caramello. I am not a sweets person, but I became obsessed with this ice cream shop because of its huge variety of vegan ice creams in occasionally offbeat flavors (sesame was my favorite). I made Jared go so often that it started embarrassing him and he stopped making eye contact with the proprietor. Like, at least 20 of the 30 nights we lived there often. Sorry, Jared! (But not really because it was delicious.)

I know you feel fat after doing this, but tomorrow you can rent a bike and do a few laps of the Tiergarten. Or go on a city-wide search for matching Birkenstocks with your husband.
how do you say "drinking the kool aid" in German?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Heady Spotting in Burlington, Vermont

what the insides of a vermont themed treasure chest might look like
A friend taught me an excellent word recently: schnapsidee. It’s German (clearly), and means “booze idea”—so, one of those plans you make when you have had a few pints. They always seem fun until the next morning, when suddenly they seem to require A LOT of energy. The key to turning schnapsidees into reality (and in turn into great stories) is someone who will hold you to your word. And so, on the coldest weekend of this or any recent year, a plan hatched over Grimms at Proletariat in the East Village became a drive from New York City to Burlington, Vermont in search of the elusive Heady Topper.

Heady is one of those beers that inspire a sort of mania. Its deliciousness is storied, and it’s not distributed outside of a 25-mile radius from where it's brewed in Waterbury. Plus, the brewery is closed to the public, and retailers limit the number of cans you can buy (sometimes it’s as low as one four pack). Stores all over Burlington still sell out of their weekly delivery within hours, so you have to know who is getting Heady and when so you’re ready to pounce. Um, or walk in calmly like a normal person.

Our first morning in Burlington, it was negative ten degrees. If you have never been in negative ten degree weather, I am jealous of you and you will probably live longer than me. Negative ten degrees makes your ears feel like brittle glass. Jared’s beard frosted over immediately. Really, the only good thing about weather like that is you can drink all the beer and eat all the cheese you want, and tell yourself it’s protection against the cold. We had a ridiculously delicious brunch at the Penny Cluse around 11am, where we ordered two Heady Toppers. “Each?” our waitress asked, because she was a reasonable and excellent waitress. But no, two Heady Toppers to split between the four of us, because we had a big day of Beer Field Trips planned. (When this blog takes off and makes me very famous and wealthy, I think I will start a travel company called Beer Field Trips. Let me know if you’re ready to invest.)

cute husband at Winooski Beverage Warehouse, not so into photos
Our first stop was Winooski Beverage Warehouse, where I felt a sort of glee that I usually only experience during very large tap numbers in Broadway musicals, or in Parisian bakeries. Shopping for esoteric beers is my very favorite kind of shopping (although recently I have been really into buying rugs, and now we have so many rugs we have started hanging them on our walls.) I was dancing through the aisles of the Winooski Beverage Warehouse, but fortunately no one could really tell because I was wearing so many layers.

Then it was time to make one of the most important and remote American beer pilgrimages one can make: to the hallowed Hill Farmstead brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vermont. Greensboro Bend is an hour and a half from Burlington, which is to say, it’s out there. It started to snow as we drove, and we entertained the idea that the brewery might actually be closed due to weather. Don’t ask me why we didn’t use our Power of The Internet and Phone Communication to determine if that was actually the case; our brains and the world wide web were both frozen.
Hill Farmstead tasting flight
We should never have doubted the cross section of hardened Vermonters and serious beer freaks, because Hill Farmstead was packed. It’s a concrete warehouse in the middle of the field that is supposed to be gorgeous in the summer, but in the winter just seems like a long way to walk through howling, cutting winds. Inside, you take a number to wait your turn for growler fills; the next number was close to 700. They were currently serving number 430. There were so many people in this place that the windows were open to cool things off, even though that handy Snapchat filter that puts the temperature on your photos told me it was currently -16.

After an increasingly snowy and dark drive back to Burlington, we called an Uber because we all live in the future and went to dinner at The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, which is an excellent establishment that used to be a McDonalds and now has one of the craziest beer lists you could ever hope to stumble across. There is also a hidden log cabin themed bar called The Parlor in the basement where you can play darts. Don’t all leave for Burlington at once!!

Then the next day was Valentine’s Day, so we bought twenty five Vermont cheeses and ate them all. It was the best Valentine’s Day ever.
a small representation of our cheese haul
Our drive home on Monday did take us eight hours, but on our way out of town we hit every shop on the Monday Heady Spotter distribution list, until we found our mecca at Shelburne Meat Market, where each couple bought a case (!). As I rationed them carefully for the next two months, I was pretty schnapsidee-lighted. (Gonna go give myself a real good talking to about that pun, bye!)

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Magical Guinness along the Wild Atlantic Way

pinch me.

The legend is true: Guinness is better in Ireland. It’s mild and sweet and low in alcohol, and all the places you can get it are just so picturesque and cozy, and let’s be honest: it feels badass to call it “The Black Stuff.” In two weeks of driving clockwise around Ireland in a tiny red car that squeaked when you turned the steering wheel to the right, we stopped at a lot of pubs and drank a lot of Guinness. But one magical pub two miles from nowhere in the far western wilds was so wonderful I nearly called movers in NYC and told them to just pack up our apartment and ship it to County Kerry.

We went to Lauragh because I wanted to stay in this gypsywagon. I found it on Airbnb and my heart skipped a beat and so we drove hours out of our way along craggy, winding roads to this thin finger of land that extends into the Atlantic. We sandwiched our trip to the wagon between visiting a cheese farm in Durrus and taking a boat out to Skellig Michael (where I couldn’t understand a word our boat captain said except when he physically got up and put me in front of the steering wheel and seemed to think none of the other 18 passengers would mind that suddenly it was me guiding them full speed ahead over choppy, rainy seas towards a rock outcropping twelve miles from shore.)
BUT FIRST! A Guinness.

the road to lauragh

We were early to Lauragh, despite driving at half speed because every turn of the road revealed another family of sheep lounging within inches of our bumper. And here’s a thing to know about Lauragh, Country Kerry: there’s not much going on. There are the Derreen Gardens, where we stopped in the parking lot and both pretended we were excited, and then at the same time admitted we actually were ambivalent about paying 7€ to see exotic plants (don’t hold it against me!) TripAdvisor lists three restaurants in Lauragh and the surrounds. Google Maps told me we were feet from a pub, but upon further investigation, we learned it had been converted into a private residence. Finally, we drove up to the gypsy wagon, three hours early, wearing our most apologetic expressions.

Our ruddy young Irish host was politely surprised to see us. He was also wearing Crocs. That’s just a detail I think is relevant.
gleeful in front of our lodging for the night

the ridiculously cute interior of our wagon
He told us there was a great pub called Helen's not too far ("Well, it's called Teddy O'Sullivan but really it's Helen's," he helpfully explained), which made me feel relieved and dubious at the same time, since we had just spent an hour driving from one end of Lauragh to the other, finding nothing but a sandwich place called Pedals and Boots and several roads that dead ended into private farms. He directed us past Derreen Gardens, where I had sworn the road ended in some sort of green thicket, and our little red car suddenly burst onto the Wild Atlantic Way, which I think is just the most deeply romantic name there ever was for a road.

self explanatory, i assume

We wound around the coast for a mile or so until we arrived at a red and white pub that said "Teddy O’Sullivan" on the wall, but "Helen Moriarty" above the door. It stood alone at a curve in the road. Across the way, along the waterfront, there were five wooden picnic tables and a dock for fishing boats. This is mussel country, so we ordered two Guinness and a bowl of tiny, sweet mussels, and we cracked into our selection of Durrus cheeses that we’d bought earlier in the day. We were giddily alone in a secret section of the planet until a fisherman and his young son came by with their mussel nets, father passing tradition along to son. I was very sure as we sat there that this perfect place was only there for this afternoon, for this happy hour, for this sunset, for this pint of Guinness. And then maybe just one more.