In 2015, I feasted on seafood in Puglia and learned to make cheese in the Basque Country. I lured friends and family to Dublin for my wedding, but also for Irish oysters, music, and craic. I followed a dog on a truffle hunt in Piemonte, got my hands dirty during a cooking class in San Sebastian, and began June mornings in Rome with a perfect peach from Campo de’Fiori. I’m not going to try to distill a year’s worth of travel into a single blog post, but the following four anecdotes were highlights from a wonderful year of travel, and represent the kind of serendipitous moments that remind us not to plan too much when we travel, and leave a little room for chance.
Rooftop Aperitivo in Calabria
The last few blissful days of my honeymoon were spent on a beach in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot. In mid-June, summer tourist season wasn’t yet in full swing in seaside Tropea. The town had a nice buzz but the beaches were still fairly empty, the sea retained a refreshing chill. Tropea is built at the top of a dramatic cliff that plunges straight down to the beaches below. In the morning, you hike down the stairs to reach the beach, and most likely, you aren’t climbing the stairs again until sunset. Normally I need to be dragged away from the beach in the cool sunset hours, but there was a reason to shake out our beach towel and retreat to the hotel: rooftop aperitivo. After climbing dozens of stairs back to the town, we were rewarded with a pre-dinner drink and snacks as the sun sank into the sea. Just five tables are tucked onto the rooftop of Residenza il Barone, giving this Italian happy hour a private, peaceful feel. We sipped a spritz and nibbled on Calabrian snacks while Cat Stevens songs played in the background. Couples at the small tables watched the sun setting as if it was a piece of theater. This was the simplest of pleasures, and quickly became a daily ritual. We would leave for the beach in the morning, and the charming guesthouse owner would call out, in Italian, see you at 7? for aperitivo!
A Wedding Weekend in Ireland
My May wedding was made all the more special by getting the chance to share my “hometown” of Dublin with my friends and family. Two nights before my wedding, I gathered friends at Paulie’s Pizza for dinner and raised pints of Guinness at Toner’s afterwards. The night before the wedding, we took over the Cellar Bar at the Merrion Hotel, and retreated upstairs to a suite for some champagne and laughter. The morning of the big day, the girls got ready in a sunny, stunning suite at the Merrion, dancing to funk music and taking pictures in the hotel’s lovely garden. The day after, my new husband and I had the entire pool at the Merrion to ourselves, a little quiet time to comprehend all that had taken place the day before. And the day after the wedding, we once again gathered friends on a bus and journeyed out into the Irish countryside to a pub in the hills called Johnnie Fox’s. It was unseasonably cold, but all the better for getting cozy by the fireplace with a Guinness or whiskey.
Meeting a Cheesemaker in the Basque Countryside
Many trips to the Basque Country focus on the cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian, but there is also much to see along the coastline of this region of northern Spain. Before I spent the afternoon in the fishing village of Getaria, I had an early morning appointment in the countryside with a cheesemaker named Carmen. Through a translator, Carmen took me through the process of making Idiazabal, a sheep’s milk cheese. We stretched plastic covers over our shoes and entered her workshop, then the aging room, where rounds of cheese were carefully arranged, covered in varying states of mold. She showed me a simple smoker, where wood is burned and smoke fills a chamber full of metal racks (Idiazabal can be plain or smoked). She spoke of customers who request her cheese at a specific age, and a specific level of smoke. Though it was barely 10am, Carmen wouldn’t let us leave without gathering around a table to taste. She disappeared inside the house momentarily, and came back with stubby glasses, a bottle of wine, a hunk of bread, a cutting board, and the two types of her Idiazabal. Sheep ate grass nearby (she keeps a few to “mow the lawn”) as we filled a glass, ripped off a piece of bread, and tried to decide — with the help of many, many samples — which of the two cheeses we preferred.
A Summer Saturday in New York City
New York City is always full of surprises. Even long time residents have something on their wish list that they’ve just never gotten around to doing. For me, this past summer, that was getting on the ferry and taking a cruise out to the Rockaways for an afternoon spent on the beach. We boarded the ferry at the South Street Seaport and soon the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan were small figures in the distance. The journey follows the coastline of Brooklyn, passing Brighton Beach, before docking in the Rockaways. Bikes are welcome on the ferry, meaning once you arrive, the entire skinny peninsula is yours to explore on two wheels. Casual beach bars with salty, too-hot-to-touch french fries and ice cream reminded me of the summers of my childhood.
This was already a perfect summer day, even before we got back to Manhattan with a rumble in our stomachs. When we arrived at Babu Ji, a contemporary Indian restaurant in Alphabet City, there was already a line out the door (the new restaurant had already earned rave reviews). The groups ahead of us declined to dine at the bar, and soon we were seated there with the first plates of a chef’s table menu flying out of the kitchen. The chef himself delivered many, with a smile. From the large beer fridge (you simply help yourself) to the addictive naan bread (how is the basket empty already?!) to the raw scallop coconut curry, this restaurant hit every high note of an ideal warm summer night.