Discovering Lexington Ave.

Today I meandered down Lexington Avenue; a street I pass frequently, but rarely take the time to explore.

It wasn’t planned or anything, I was just wandering about, wondering where I should go when my feet found my way there.

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I absentmindedly scanned window displays and popped in and out of stores perusing the various merchandise each shop offered.

You might think that if Asheville was assigned a single word to describe it, it would be “quirky.”  Which would almost do it, but not quite; somehow, “quirky” falls short of the mark.  A better word would be “original” — this is much more encompassing of the uniqueness and flavor Asheville contains:  From its shops, to its events, to its people, Asheville is original.

The great thing about this originality is that you’ll never know what you’re going to find. Who knew, for example, when I pushed open the funky, red door to Downtown Books & News, I’d meet Luke Skywalker among the bookshelves (haha), DSCN1242or that in Write On, I’d discover journals with pages made of recycled elephant pooh. Yes, you heard me right: RECYCLED. ELEPHANT. POOH. It’s a thing. Apparently.DSCN1244.jpg

I finished off my adventures on Lexington Ave. by following the delicious, curry smells wafting through the air until I reached Mela, a local Indian restaurant.

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One lunch buffet later, I was stuffed with delicious food — in particular this amazing, and I mean AMAZING, kale salad. (Can I just take a moment to tell you how heavenly it was? Citrusy, fresh, crunchy, sweet, zesty, cashews, raisins…I’d go back solely for that salad.)  After that I went home, fully satisfied with great, and original, day of adventuring.  🙂

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Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate!

Centrally located in the heart of Asheville’s Downtown, the French Broad Chocolate Lounge is a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike.  Walk in, and your mouth will immediately start watering.
0614161840 (1)And what’s even better, is that all these chocolates are made in-house, and the business is committed to ethical enterprise and fair trade.

And while I’m fairly convinced I would love everything ever made by this café, here are a few of my favorites:

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chocolate mousse

Chocolate Mousse, Almonds Dragee,  Flourless Chocolate Cake, Coffee-n-Nibs Ice Cream….And let’s not forget their amazingly, wonderful liquid truffles — truffles melted down into a thick, delicious, hot drinking chocolate.

Are you convinced yet, that a visit to the Chocolate Lounge is absolutely necessary?  😉

 

 

 

A Day for Farmer’s Markets

Today was the day for Farmer’s Markets. It’s not that I haven’t been to these Farmer’s Markets before, but it’s been so long, it’s almost like a new adventure. And this was one of those summer days that makes you happy to be alive — blue skies, sunshine, and just enough breeze to keep you cool.

My first stop was the West Asheville Farmer’s Market where you can find an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and then I headed Downtown where the artist’s booths were filled with wonderfully, amazing handmade art — pottery, wood art, jewelry, and art of every other medium.  A true festival of color, creativity, and happy faces.

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Earrings and blackberries…great finds!

Of course all this exploration makes a girl hungry, so I crossed the street to the Chocolate Lounge for some ice cream.  Then, settling down at one of their outside tables, I watched people stroll by and flipped lazily through a copy of the Mountain Xpress.

(Side Note: The Mountain Xpress is a great local resource of articles and happenings around Asheville as well as the location of a challenging crossword.)

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“Coffee and nibs” ice cream

After an hour of savoring sunshine, ice cream, and crosswords, my rumbling stomach dictated I needed something more substantial.  As I wandered back through the park, my eye caught the Twisted Laurel.  Perfect.

I had never eaten at the Twisted Laurel, but I loved Greek food. Besides, on such a gorgeous day, it was a great place to sit at their outside bar tables and watch the world go by.  Today, there was also the finish line for a bike race nearby, so my meal was periodically punctuated by applause and cyclists gliding in past the flurry of flags.

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Gyro platter with greek salad…delicious!

DSCN1198My food was delicious, my conversations with various strangers pleasant, and the time spent simply delightful. These are the kind of days that possess a magical quality in which not much is accomplished, but everything is enjoyed.

Adventuring Where You Live

Sometimes we think that to explore new places we have to travel far from home.  But, if we really think about it, most of us haven’t fully experienced our own towns — our own “now” if we’re going to add a mystical element to it.

I’ve actually had tourists — people who don’t even live here – come up to me and say, “Have you done such and such?  It was great!”

And my answer is “Well, no, actually. I haven’t.”

And of course, I have no good answer to their follow-up question of, “Why not?”

I’ve lived here for years and, still, there are places or events tourists make a point to experience during their short vacation that I have never done.

So I’m going to be a tourist in my own town.  I’m going to explore places I’ve never been, see what tour books say to do, and go places people recommend.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 😉

Welcome to Asheville, North Carolina.  USA.

Piece 3: Killarney National Park

I know most tourists hike the Gap of Dunlop when they go to Killarney, and perhaps, someday, I will too. I have no doubt it is beautiful. But in the height of tourist season, I wasn’t so keen to share my landscape with hundreds of others.

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Instead, I explored the National Park.  Sitting just on the edge of Killarney town, I was surprised to find it less cluttered than I had imagined. Except for certain roads punctuated with the occasional clip-clop of the carriage tours, the rest of the Park seemed solely at my disposal. I paused, standing on a slopping hill, and breathed in the scenery: the sweet, grassy fields, the forests, the blue-purple hills, the lakes… all blended together in a perfect harmony that is only born of some deep, long-ago magic.

I would be happy to write and write of my experience in the Park, but sometimes, a picture tells it best.  Enjoy. 🙂

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Piece 2: St. Mary’s Cathedral

The next time I visit Killarney, I will be sure to attend a mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Not because I’m particularly religious, but because the architecture is so beautiful, it makes you want to go church.

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This visit, however, I simply took a moment to slip inside one afternoon. The only sound was the soft murmur of choir music drifting from hidden speakers and the hushed whispers of tourists and prayers.

Quietly, I lit a candle for my Grandfather. I don’t know why I did it, but I always light a candle for him when I go into one of these churches. Perhaps it is because he is Catholic and this is one way I can honor and remember him. Or perhaps, for some reason, this kind of physical act simply makes me feel more connected.

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photo borrowed from Internet

After lighting my candle, I settled down on a long, wooden pew. I watched my candle flicker; standing side-by side with dozens of other candles. Dozens of stories converted into flickering flame. I wondered who they were all lit for. Were they prayers? Or, like mine, lit of remembrance and love?

My gaze then rose up the stone columns to the vaulted ceilings; massive stone high above my head. And everywhere, interspersed through the walls of that great stone, and tucked under arches, shone intricately stained-glass windows.

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photo borrowed from trip advisor

As you sit in St. Mary’s, you can’t escape the feeling that you are surrounded by a great vastness; the air is permeated by the reverent quietness of the place.

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photo borrowed from trip advisor

Silence is a beautifully, profound thing. And even if this church is not part of your religion, I would recommend a visit. Take time to sit down and embrace the silence. Breathe in the quiet, the flickering candles, and the space…this is a moment to leave the rest of the world behind and dwell in the quiet of your own thoughts.

Piece 1: Petit Delice

Petit Delice was a fantastic discovery I made one afternoon in Killarney. It’s slightly off the beaten path, which means that even in the height of July, odds are you can still find a quiet corner to sit in.

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photo borrowed from trip advisor

The afternoon was one of those “soft” Irish days where the rain comes down in a gentle misting sheet rather than individual drops. Weary of the streets and the drizzle, I began craving a hot mug of coffee and a cosy hideout.

From the moment you step inside Petit Delice, you immediately leave the busy hustle and rush of the streets, and are wrapped in soothing, rustic ambience and delightful smells. Fresh croissants, wedges of pie, cookies, tarts,  and an abundance of other breads and delicacies filled the glass counters.

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photo borrowed from trip advisor

The only problem you will have in this place is there are so many choices and they all look fantastically delicious.

After deliberating over the offerings and finally selecting a decadent chocolate tart, I ordered my cappuccino, and nestled down at one of the wooden tables.

My steaming cappuccino clasped in my hands, the taste of chocolate tart on my tongue, and a book to keep me company, I was perfectly content.  Outside the world strolled by without a passing thought, while inside time seemed to slow.  The murmur of soft music, the smell of coffee, and the gentle clink of mugs on saucers filled the room. People leaned towards each other, chatting amicably over their coffee; their plates holding crumbled traces of delicious treats.

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photo borrowed from Petit Delice

Sound fantastic?  Don’t take my word for it.  Visit yourself….and enjoy.  🙂

 

 

 

The 3 Pieces of Killarney

Killarney — in full summer — is a throng of tourist packed streets, music, and color. It projects a vibrancy specially designed to attract the tourist like bees to the honeypot.  And of course, its location, tucked among the green mountains and sparkling lakes of Kerry, speaks for itself.

Each person’s encounter with a place is uniquely their own, and for me, it is no different.  Killarney (and the reason I return to it) is complied of a series of special attractions. The three, in particular, I have chosen to share in the coming posts are Petit Delice Bakery, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the Killarney National Park.

It may sound silly to write only on these select few, when there is so much more to Killarney, but this is my experience.  And while I throughly enjoyed following a lively trail of music into a pub, or meandering through the town peering in shop windows, the places I have selected are especially memorable to me.  They are the pieces that stand out; that shape my encounter with Killarney.  And when other memories around them fade, these three are the ones I will spread out on a cold winter’s night and remember with fondness.

The “Full Irish”

No, this is not what I mean. 😉

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I’m talking about the Irish breakfast; that heaping mound of protein you are supposed to be able to eat all in one sitting. I remember staring at it one morning as my B&B host set it down before me: A large plate filled with sausages, rashers (thick slices of bacon), eggs, black and white puddings, beans, potatoes, and tomatoes.  Not to mention the thick slices of brown bread and toast in the basket next to me, and the large pot of tea at my disposal.

(photo borrowed from Internet)
(photo borrowed from Internet)

It looked delicious, but, I, who come from the world of choosing between cereal, yogurt, toast, or, on the rare occasion, an egg, felt like I was looking at the breakfast of a body builder.

“Aren’t you going to have any cereal?”  asked my host, worried she had brought out the plate too soon.

I glanced over at the plentiful cereal bar – cereal, granola, yogurt, and fruit – then back at my plate.  To myself I thought, Cereal! How on earth am I going to be able to eat cereal AND all of this?! This could be my meal for the next century! (Which, considering I was traveling on a budget, could actually be quite helpful.)

But instead, I glanced up with a smile and said, “Err, maybe later?”

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the Irish Breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a “breakfast person”. I never miss eating it, and I can eat it at 4am just as well as 9am.  I just don’t eat it to this kind of proportion.  And, of course, I know that just because it’s called an “Irish Breakfast” doesn’t mean it is the breakfast all Irish eat every morning.  I think rather, it’s one of those traditions that tourists and restaurants take part in more than your average local. But regardless, I can never help but feel intimidated every time I face it.

The end result, readers, was that over the course of the next hour, I did eat my Irish breakfast. I even finished off with an apple as a pallet cleanser (although I never managed to get to that cereal).

And, what’s more, I didn’t feel hungry until later in the afternoon…and that was  after I had spent hours hiking up and down a mountain. 🙂