Ultimate Southern Road Trip: Loews Vanderbilt Hotel

Sometimes, a girl really needs a vacation. Sometimes, a staycation is even better. Filling a weekend with activities in your own backyard is only complete with a stay at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. Two nights and three days filled with luxury accommodations and local enjoyment is a perfect combination to relax and reset without ever leaving town.

STAY: Just a short drive from downtown Nashville is a haven of luxury and relaxation. Loews Vanderbilt Hotel offers the ultimate upscale travel experience. The rooms are beautifully eccentric, decorated with inspired nods to Music City’s rich history. Minutes from the city’s most renowned attractions, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel houses elegant lounges, a fitness center, outdoor patio, and much more, all with Southern charm and sophistication. After completing a recent $17 million dollar renovation, this epic hideaway is absolutely refined. Suite views of the blooming Vanderbilt University campus or downtown skyline complete the effortless feel of this Nashville oasis. Even better? Loews Vanderbilt Hotel is pet-friendly, too!

FRIDAY NIGHT: Located in the lobby, Mason’s is the perfect location for the weekend’s first dinner. Showcasing Southern cuisine, every item on the menu is filling, rich and delicious. I recommend opening with a refreshing cocktail and the larder board’s mix of sweetgrass dairy brie, Alabama goat cheese, fig jam and more. For entrees, don’t miss the diver scallops with lady pea succotash, pork belly and corn milk soubise. Yum! To finish, make sure you devour one of the speciality desserts. You can never go wrong with a light, fluffy crepe with fresh blackberries.

Use the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel complimentary car service - a shiny new Mercedes GL450 SUV - to head downtown for a nightcap. Start at Acme Feed & Seed and soak up the view of Lower Broadway before the line gets too long. If the line is around the block, head to Rock Bottom next door for an equally-wonderful view with a slightly smaller crowd. Wander up and down Printer’s Alley, people-watching and bar-hopping between Bourbon Street, Kelli’s and Fleet Street. Meet your taxi at the end of Broadway, taking your time to stop in a few historic honky-tonk joints before closing out the evening.

SATURDAY MORNING: Roll out of bed and head right downstairs to the in-hotel fitness center, open 24 hours. You’ll work off your dinner from the night before without ever leaving the premises. Freshen up and start the day at Mason's with a breakfast cocktail and Persian frittata with shaved asparagus, dried cherries and chick pea smash. You’ll be awake and ready to fill your afternoon with local activities.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: One of Nashville’s most celebrated locations for a sunny afternoon is the Cheekwood Art Museum & Botanical Gardens. This particular weekend housed two exhibits on the grounds: Steve Tobin’s Southern Roots sculpture showcase and Cheekwood In Bloom!, the remarkable display of thousands of tulips across the entire garden. What a sight!

With so many craft breweries popping up in town, a stop at Jackalope Brewing Company for a private tour and tasting is absolutely necessary. You’ll quench your thirst from the garden walk and learn the story of this local brewery. You’ll taste seasonal and year-round small batch beers, and you’ll never forget the anecdote behind this company’s name. Worth a laugh!

In need of something to nibble, head straight to Olive & Sinclair in East Nashville. The final tour of the day is welcomed when you smell the scent of freshly baked chocolate upon entry. As Tennessee’s first and only bean-to-bar chocolate company, you’ll learn the history and importance of Southern artisan chocolate-making. Yes, there’s plenty of chocolate to taste throughout the tour. If you haven’t spent part of your afternoon in their location, an old grocery store built in 1890, you’re missing out.

SATURDAY NIGHT: Once again, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel houses a wonderful location for evening entertainment. After stopping by the room, order one of the many delicious craft cocktails available at Mason Bar. Located in the hotel lobby, Mason Bar is a traditional Southern “Public House.” Every cocktail is a modern twist of pre-prohibition favorites, and the bar has become a new Nashville neighborhood watering hole.

Hopefully you’re hungry. Nashville’s restaurant community is ever-changing and growing at a very rapid rate. Le Sel is a New French cuisine restaurant, one block off the busy streets of the Midtown neighborhood. Offering a raw bar and robust cocktail and wine list, you’ll munch on traditional French fare in a playful, casual atmosphere. Start with the onion soup and steak tartare. For the main dish, I recommend the halibut with sauce vert, spring lettuces and pickled mustard. With a cocktail and conversation, you’ll be feeling full and satisfied.

SUNDAY MORNING: You might wake up feeling a little exhausted from a fun-filled weekend. Loews Vanderbilt Hotel brings the workout to your room. Call down to the concierge for equipment hand-picked by Nashville-based fitness expert and trainer-to-the-stars Erin Oprea. Her new fitness program, Balance with Erin Oprea, is a full workout you can do in the comfort of your room. She’s also the influence on athlete-inspired dishes at Mason’s and guilt-free, healthier cocktails during happy hour.

Brunch in Nashville is a serious matter. Your choices are endless, but sometimes, the exciting approach is the way to go. Chauhan Ale & Masala House is new to town, but it packs a punch you’ll never forget. Start your meal with the Wild Nothing cocktail. It’s simple with earl grey vodka, cranberry cordial and bubbles, but you’ll need the minimalistic drink to balance the upcoming courses. Do not miss the masala daba and tandoori bread. The freshly baked naan is exceptional, and the ever-changing lineup of chutneys and flavored butters will leave you wondering if you should have just ordered this dish as your meal. Try the completely addictive bacon chicken deviled eggs, and for your main plate, sink your teeth into the breakfast parantha taco with vindaloo sausage, scrambled eggs, malaysian parantha, provel cheese, kachumber and mango mint chutney. Oh. My. Brunch.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON: With a few hours of daylight left, don’t ignore the city’s local calendar. There are always free events at the local parks, complete with music, food trucks, vendors and more. This particular weekend was Project 615’s Nash Spring Bash at Centennial Park. With a live broadcast from Nashville’s independent radio station, Lightning 100, the day delivered an impressive musical lineup, popular local food trucks and over 30 local business vendors showcasing jewelry, screen-printing, pottery and more.

After a sunny walk around the park, the weekend came to a relaxing end at Adagio. After a glass of champagne and a 1-hour Swedish massage from Adagio’s very sweet staff, you’ll head home feeling refreshed and reset, and you never even had to leave town.

Be sure to follow along as the Ultimate Southern Road Trip continues tomorrow with Caroline Eubanks of Caroline in the City as she explores the must-sees in one of the South’s fastest growing cities – Atlanta! On June 20, you can also enter to win your own Ultimate Southern Road Trip with Loews Hotels & Resorts or book your own stay at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel.

John Branam Photography

Clothing provided by Castilleja Nashville

Shoes provided by Freebird by Steven

Bags provided by Ceri Hoover

Activewear provided by Neighborhood Barre

AVIATE: Play Hard, Travel Often

Aviate produces the ultimate gear for the traveling soul: your favorite airport call letters on comfortable baseball caps. The simple font and nod to classic American style make these hats easy for pairing with casual wear. My heart resides in (BNA) Nashville, and John's heart will always hold a special place for (UOX) Oxford. We took our hats up in the R44 for a Sunday afternoon flight over Nashville. What city would you rock?

John Branam Photography

BNA Nashville and UOX Oxford c/o Aviate | COAT Zara | TOP Fabletics | LEGGINGS lululemon

72 Hours in Nashville, Indiana

When all of your girls are spread across the entire world, you can't let busy schedules, scheduling conflicts or even oceans keep you apart. This holiday season, I met my best girls in the only location equidistant from each of our current locations: Nashville, Indiana. Hidden inside this tiny Brown County town is the Silver Moon Lake Retreat. We found ourselves relaxing in a quaint little apartment overlooking a five acre pond.

Nautical-inspired with a charming fireplace, our temporary abode was the perfect escape. We snuggled up with glasses of wine and cheap champagne, shutting ourselves away from the world for a few days. We cooked brunch for one another, munched on authentic Italian lasagna, refused to wear makeup or pants, slept in too late, definitely stayed up too late, and may or may not have had a tiny food fight in our slippers. Our only weekend visitors were owner CJ graciously delivering homemade cranberry bread, Luna the cat, and a mama doe with her baby fawn. The four of us left the weekend feeling rejuvenated and at peace. 

We emerged for only a moment to visit the tiny downtown area of Nashville. Decorated like a Christmas Village, the streets were filled with cheerful families and elderly explorers, complete with horse drawn carriages. Ice cream parlors and hand-blown glass boutiques line the sidewalks, and we found ourselves lingering past closing time in The Wild OliveI chose a couple lavender and charcoal soap bars from Twisted Wick, a husband & wife handmade candle & soap business, to bring home. What a delightful little town.

SLIPPERS PB Teen | SLEEPSHIRT HoneyDew Intimates via Nordstrom Rack

SWEATER Free People | ROMPER Free People | BOOTS asos

1 Hour in Sewanee, Tennessee

Since 1974, Shenanigan's has been a regular haunt for sandwich-lovers on the mountain.  Sewanee is best known as home to The University of the South, but during the summer months, the streets are quiet.  To continue our "100 Dollar Hamburger" adventures, John and I flew a short 30 minutes in the R44 to this wooded hideaway for a Saturday afternoon lunch.  You cannot miss the Cool Cucumber: toasted bagel, a huge pile of cucumbers, cream cheese, mayo, provolone, onion, dill, and herbs. I substituted avocado for my onions, and we sat in blissful silence in a sunlit corner of this charming restaurant, smiling from ear to ear. Absolutely delicious on a hot July day. On your way out of town, find the scenic lookout point inside Sewanee's campus.  Ask the locals, they'll show you the way.  Hint: Texas Avenue.

John Branam Photography

BODYSUIT American Apparel | SHORTS Thrifted | SUNNIES Ray-Ban | BELT Nasty Gal | BAG Zara | BANDANA Academy | BOOTS Ariat

Bonnaroo 2015 Photo Diary

1 Hour in Falls of Rough, Kentucky

Continuing our "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" adventures, John and I spent our Saturday afternoon having lunch at Grayson's Landing in Falls of Rough, Kentucky. Hidden in a small corner of Rough River Lake, Grayson's Landing offers a beautiful panoramic lakeside view while you dine on a country-style buffet at the Rough River Dam State Resort Park. It's just an hour's flight north of Nashville, and you're tucked away in a wooded Kentucky oasis. A perfect afternoon getaway.

John Branam Photography

Similar to our previous adventures, the beauty of the "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" stop is the location. The brisket, old-fashioned macaroni 'n' cheese, and free-for-all soft-serve ice cream may spark feelings of nostalgia, but it's not what gets the R44's engines rumblin'. It's the view. John and I plan to return for an overnight stay in one of the state park's cabins. And maybe to eat more soft-serve...

72 Hours in Muscle Shoals, Alabama

A couple weeks back, John and I took part in American Songwriter Magazine's Live & In Person weekend getaway to Muscle Shoals. Since I work at the magazine, the decision to attend was easy. Regardless, three days in this Alabama oasis made it clear this was something that should not have been missed. Enjoy our recap of the first Live & In Person below.

John Branam Photography

After a scenic 2-hour drive from Nashville, our Friday evening began with a ride on the historic city-wide trolley to Florence's first craft brewery, Singin' River. I recommend tasting the Handy's Gold: a blonde ale based on the Munich Helles style but fermented with a classic British ale yeast. From there, we headed to the Billy Reid flagship store where we met three of the original Swampers. After feasting on Whole Hog Express BBQ with 30 other guests, we settled in for an intimate evening of songwriting and storytelling with Spooner Oldham, Jimmie Johnson and Will McFarlane. We also got our first taste of the cheerful and always darling Judy Hood, honorary "Swampette" and wife of Swampers bassist David Hood. This night alone could have quenched our thirst for a musical weekend, especially after hearing Will McFarlane's story about getting tattoos with Tom Waits.

Saturday began with a morning at the Alabama Chanin Factory, a "lifestyle company producing well-designed and thoughtfully-made goods." Designer Natalie Chanin curates a heavenly location with 100% organic cotton jersey fabric, hand-sewn masterpieces, kind-hearted workers, and sustainable quality. She also incorporates a Southern-style kitchen, sourcing only local and regional ingredients. The entire room agreed this was the best breakfast any of us had ever had. Hands down.

We happily dragged our full bellies back onto the trolley for a full day of Muscle Shoals history. Judy Hood took us deep inside the world so few had ever known before the famous 2013 documentary. We toured Fame Studios, where producer Rick Hall and his skilled team recorded hits by Etta James, Jimmy Hughes, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Candi Station and more. We stood inside 3614 Jackson Highway, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where star musicians like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Cher, Elton John, Paul Simon, and many others created some of the most memorable music to date. 

For our final stop, we peeked inside the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and met Rick Hall himself. His gold rings sparkled from a mile away. Shaking his hand really brought everything full circle. You hear about these places, and you know how important they are to American music. But, you can't understand how humble this beginning truly was until you stand on the same broken tiles as artists you admire. Judy even explained how seeing these locations in person has made grown men cry. I wouldn't doubt it for a second.

After heading back to the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, John and I met up with the guests for dinner at Odette, a "neighborhood eatery serving elevated American fare with southern and international influences. The menu features locally and sustainably-sourced ingredients in a contemporary, inviting and comfortable atmosphere." We started with tomato & chickpea toast with goat cheese and pickled turnips, followed by deviled farm eggs with red curry, white cheddar pimento cheese and bacon. Try the tortilla-crusted Alabama catfish with sea island red peas, smoked sweet potato relish and red mole. Don't leave a single morsel on your plate. You're welcome. Pictured is the toffee creme brûlée with dark chocolate-hazelnut toffee bark and brown sugar cheesecake with gingersnap and maple-roster pineapple compote.

Through the kitchen and out the back alley brought us to 116 E. Mobile. A musical weekend isn't complete without a concert, and Single Lock Records delivered. Single Lock is Florence's own independent record label owned and operated by Will Trapp, Ben Tanner, and John Paul White of the Grammy Award-winning duo The Civil Wars. Packed into the label's candlelit venue, we enjoyed the sounds of The Kernal, Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers, The Pollies, Belle Adair, and Dylan LeBlanc. Once again, this night could have sufficed for the entire trip. Donnie Fritz crooned with John Paul White, and I died happy somewhere in that room that night.

Sunday morning featured a filling hotel breakfast and storytelling session with legendary songwriter Gary Baker. We huddled on the hotel's porch to hear him sing snippets of internationally-renowned songs like "I Swear." Another morning with a bacon-filled stomach and music filling our ears woke us up just enough for the short drive home. On your way out of town, stop at Tom's Wall. This memorial to Tom Hendrix's great grandmother commemorates her emotional and inspiring journey. After her Native American tribe was forced to walk to Oklahoma from their Alabama home, one Yuchi girl could no longer hear the singing waters she had grown to love in Muscle Shoals. Her journals tell the difficult story of her 5-year walk back home, all to hear the music she held so dear. Tom created the largest un-mortared wall in the United States and the largest memorial to a Native American woman with stones from over 120 countries. It's not to be missed.

John Branam Photography

We hope to host another Live & In Person event in the coming months, furthering this intimate experience of music history with the American Songwriter audience. Stay tuned for updates and the announcement of the next location with American Songwriter Magazine.

Video by Mountain. Click here to see more photos and beautiful portraits by photographer Jason Myers.
Click here to learn more about American Songwriter's Live & In Person.

24 Hours in Oxford, Mississippi

When the sky is blue and an invitation arrives, a savvy girl cancels her plans and heads out of town.  John fired up the Robinson R44, and we turned our heads south for 24 hours in Oxford, Mississippi.  Home of Faulkner, Grisham, and Ole Miss football, Oxford has been named a Best Small Town in America - a great weekend getaway.

STAY:  Just a short walk off the historic Oxford square is an oasis of elegance and comfort.  The Z is a bed & breakfast run by Texas-native and Ole Miss alumni Annie Zeleskey.  Founded in 2010, The Z is enchanting.  We stayed in “Live,” one of three charming suites.  Annie's design style is inspired by a tobacco quilt hanging in her breakfast nook.  "Each little 4x6 segment used to be rolled up in tobacco tins..."  This rustic touch is a graceful balance with The Z's french antique style.  With freshly-pressed robes and cloud-like bedding, we were grateful for its beauty and gracious southern hospitality. 

SHOP:  Don’t miss the oldest department store in the South, Neilson's, celebrating its 175th anniversary.  I recommend Therapy on the Square for the girl who loves prints, Village Tailor for the high-end bag of your dreams, and Cicada for a prime selection of casualwear and flirty dresses.  Pop your head into Amelia Presents for adorable stationary and unique gifts.  As the sun sets, don’t forget Hinton & Hinton, a southern gentleman’s boutique.  John recommends their remarkable collection of bow ties.

DINNER:  A day in Oxford isn’t complete without a meal at James Beard award-winning chef John Currence’s City Grocery.  I recommend a glass of Trimbach and a quiet table near the bar.  Start with butter-poached shrimp and rosemary-braised lamb neck.  For entrees, don’t miss the grilled trout with roasted red pepper rouille or the peking duck with sweet potato risotto and asparagus.  Yum!  Let your kind waiter refill your coffee cup at least three times while you devour the brioche perdu with poached pears and cream cheese ice cream.

DRINK:  Even if you are as full as we were, waddle across the Square for an after-dinner drink at Currence’s upscale, down-home Bouré.  Find a table on the upstairs balcony and sip on signature cocktails, Hot Toddy or Planter’s Punch.  Next, visit Funkys, the daiquiri spot where Katy Perry jumped off the bar.  Hotty Toddy!  Don’t forget to join the local college students for a beer at The Library, followed by chicken-on-a-stick at the Chevron.  Don’t ask, just trust me.

BREAKFAST:  Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast is not to miss, but Annie’s breakfast at The Z quickly changed our minds.  Melt into her absolutely amazing homemade cinnamon rolls and maple frosting, with a side of local sausage and fresh oranges.  On your way out of town, grab a loaf of freshly-baked sourdough bread from The Bottletree Bakery for loved ones in Nashville and an iced chai from High Point Coffee for the trip home.

Like many others, Annie loved Oxford so much she never left.  "I have travelers from all over the world just passing through, wanting to see Oxford.  I love the wonderful reputation it has...for good reason, too!"  Although one day in Oxford isn't enough to experience all there is to offer, it's just a short 5-hour drive south of Nashville to music, arts, literature, dining, and sports, all packed into a charming Mississippi haven.

John Branam Photography

DRIVE: 4-5 hours by I-40W

PLANE: 30 minutes from BNA to MEM, then rent a car for final 90 minute drive.

OUT: Oxford Bus Service - Click here for fares, routes, and schedule.

TAXI: Rock Star Taxi and Limo 662-701-7019, Rebel Taxi 662-832-7433, Oxford Taxi 662-701-7310

1 Hour in Stewart, Tennessee

A "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" is jargon I learned last year from John.  In the aviation community, this term refers to a short flight to nearby airfield to grab a quick meal, then a return trip home.  My first "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" was a Sunday afternoon spent at The Only Home of Throwed Rolls, Lambert's Cafe, located in Sikeston, Missouri.  As with other restaurants on the "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" list, the meal doesn't even remotely approach the cost of the fuel used to get there.  It's all in the fun.

John Branam Photography

Last week, the winter sky was crisp and perfect for a trip to another favorite destination eatery for pilots. Just a quick 45-minute flight from Nashville in John's Robinson R44 helicopter delivered us to a tiny runway surrounded by Tennessee's rolling hills.  A stroll across a country road and we arrived at a quaint mom and pop hideaway, Southernaire Restaurant & Motel.  John and I nestled ourselves in the quiet back room and were greeted by long-time waitress, Sandy.  Her favorite item on the menu?  Tater-tots.  We obliged.  I also crunched into freshly-caught fried catfish from neighboring Kentucky Lake, and John enjoyed a toasted ham & cheese sandwich.  Delicious.  Our lunch was perfect for warming the body and soul on a cold winter day.

The beauty of this particular "Hundred Dollar Hamburger" is the location. There we were on a quiet hillside in Stewart, Tennessee in a restaurant & motel obviously cared for with pride and love. Every corner of Southernaire has a framed family photo, a hand-written letter of gratitude, or a decorative detail unique to the individuals who call this place home. Its good, honest food was comfort for us miles away from home, a welcomed stop for the hungry stomach of passing aviators. 

SWEATER H&M (Men's) | JEANS Joe's Jeans c/o ShopBop | BAG Rebecca Minkoff | SUNNIES Ray-Ban | SHOES Steve Madden

Chicago, Illinois

Even I found it difficult to believe this past weekend’s adventure was my first trip to Chicago. I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far without visiting, but I truly fell in love.

There were obligatory shopping sprees, cocktail pit-stops, and wandering walks over our long weekend. I tried exciting tastes with dinner and wine at Rosebud on Rush, a breakfast feast at Eleven City Diner, teasing sopas at High Noon Saloon, frozen cappuccinos and Jennifer Lopez conversation at the Artist's Cafe, seared halibut and maybe too many glasses of wine at Folklore Argentine Grill, a refreshing watermelon cocktail at The Violet Hour, a goat cheese burger and sangria at Terzo Piano’s artistic rooftop view, a cold beer on Navy Pier, Avi’s Avocado Burger at Rafael’s, and a final unspoken late lunch.

We scurried from store to store, finding hidden gems in the shops of Wicker Park. Belmont ArmyStore B. VintageU.S. #1Rudys RoundupVintage Underground BoutiqueEskell, and others housed wall-to-wall, drool-worthy items. I left dreaming of a layered diamond and pearl necklace. Still thinking of you, little one. I also found a switch-blade comb at Uncle Fun. Don’t let the kiddies show you magic tricks.

Our main reason for visiting Chicago, besides obnoxiously large amounts of hours giggling over shoes, was to visit the “Impressionsim, Fashion & Modernity” Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a truly remarkable display of the relationship between fashion and art during the 1860s, with a specific focus on Paris and 75 impressionist painters. Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Tissot, and many more. I adored the exhibit’s delivery of comparison between the 24-foot paintings and the showcasing of intricately layered Parisian dresses. Besides the displayed corsets being the size of my thigh, I found myself floating from frame to frame, case to case, holding my heart as tiny silver shoes were displayed alongside feathered hats and lace fans. It was an absolutely beautiful and artistic moment to appreciate how fashion truly does impact art, atmosphere, and history.

Ons Island, Spain

Isla de Ons. I'll return one day...

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Even though it’s over, my dreams are filled with afternoons at beaches after class, screaming marches in the streets, cannon blasts in the distance, and five-foot-high bonfires. Markets of baked breads and fresh fruits, the blood of bulls spread across arena floors, old cathedrals and ancient violins. Strawberry fields and caboose rides with the engulfing winds, chocolate and churros, carnival rides and candy tents. Early morning classes and lazy afternoon lunches with my host family. Walking the Camino in reverse, counting golden seashells on the ground, parrots chirping on the terrace, laundry blowing on balconies in the sun. Galaxy globes, Galician octopus, broken tambourines and flamenco dancers, sea shell sand and angry sea gulls. Toldeo, Isla de Ons, Villagarcia, and more. 

I’ve learned how the people of Spain aren’t afraid to scream from the depths of their lungs, and they aren’t afraid to notice when something is wrong. They’re willing to sit on cobblestones for hours on end, raising their hands and souls to a higher worth. I’ve learned that in Spain, love is nothing to be ashamed of, hide from, keep secret. It doesn’t matter if it’s your family or a brother or a mother, love is love. It should be shared and enjoyed. I want to go back to ancient cemeteries and lighthouses, giant painted compasses and rocky cliffs. The end of the world and the end of the Camino. Train rides and park benches, giant boulders covered in cacti, sardine floors and bonfire long jumps, a side of popcorn with mojitos and boxed wine. I’ll miss it all. It’s been too fast. If I could go back, I happily would. But then again, it’s definitely time to begin another summer in the heat of the dirty South, soaking up the humidity and remembering how feelings of truth can be applied. Things have only just begun.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid was Hotel Opera, Mercado de San Miguel, Puetro Del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and watching the revolution of the Spanish people rise. Tent after tent, sign after sign, shout after shout. Sangria, Madrid’s National Library and Museum, and Plaza del Toros for bullfights. It’s interesting partaking in such an ancient tradition, watching the energy from a muscular bull slowly drain as the blood drips and pours onto the sand beneath their hooves. It’s sad, but because it’s such a part of Spanish culture, being involved was remarkable. The mannerisms portrayed that day were inspiring beyond anything else, the way a certain confidence can be laid out before a bull’s eyes and the reactions given are like nothing else. Dancing with old French painters in the early hours of the morning, Madrid’s National Cathedral, the Royal Palace, and the largest selection of street performers I’ve ever seen. Flamenco dancers at Carmen and the beginning of a life I’ve never known.

It was visiting Aran Juez for the Royal Palace and fresh strawberries on an antique wooden train. It was visits to Toledo for a mix of old and new. Cobblestone streets and fisherman, birds making nests on the inside of old arches, cartwheels on the edge of the world, and silent moments of reflecting on the fact I was a million miles away from anything. It’s been five course meals with a group of strangers, chocolate con churros, Museo del Prado for Rubens, and the making of the Milky Way. Ancient wedding dresses, royal cribs made of blue silk, and feather caps. Protests meeting in the silent corners of the city, crusty feet and painted chests for a cause. It’s a revolution of street performers and beating hearts that scream from the pits of their tents. I’ve never met more passionate people in my life.

Toledo + Costa da Morte, Spain

From the old, to even older...

Isle of Man

Isle of Man. A 15-mile hike across the Heritage Trail, guys & dolls nightlife, bike-racing cab drivers, basking sharks, tender rides to shore and back, and Peel Castle. Sleeping ducks and empty streets for nothing but wandering back and forth. Not a care in the world.

Liverpool, England

Liverbirds and graffiti scraps, technicolor coffee shops and Castle Street festivals. Helter skelter children slides and bubble pop electric bows in every shoe and color. Luxury at its finest. Nights at Lloyd's and Modo, banana lamps and pigeon love. The yellow duckmarine, Albert Dock, and the revolution. Stumbling across the Tate Museum featuring Picasso: Peace+Freedom and DLA Piper series: This Is A Sculpture. Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, the condition of a woman, and castration from a little killing machine. Liverpool Cathedral, and our very own ratatat Banksy. Getting lost between silent streets with nothing but the echo of bouncing ball. George’s first guitar. Beginner Beatles drums. Posters, charts, records, Beatles pantyhose, lunchboxes, and certificates. Abbey Road recording tapes, George’s amp, John's mohair suit, and screaming girls. Airport seats ripped from their cabin, the Eleanor Rigby grave, contracts and signatures and glasses.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Bus rides and ship yards and train tunnels. The Counting House dinners with the longest bar in the world. Tiny little sailing boats resting atop domed roofs. Crowded Edinburgh streets, quilted men with dreadlocks, and screaming lines of policemen. Marching bagpipe bands, polish trumpets that rattle your bones, and the citadel military band bringing back the funk. Furry hats and stunted growth, military motorcycle stunts, and entirely too many fireworks. All at the Military Tattoo. Hiding in telephone booths for warmth while ringing out the pom-poms on your jacket, and a walk back in the refreshing Scottish mist in the early morning light.

Whitehaven, England

Owl stare downs at the World Owl Center, silent moments in the haunted Muncaster Castle, and medieval feasts. Singing with harp players and piano jockeys, sailing back and forth from the ship to shore. Street festivals, made-to-eat hot dogs, taxi drivers, and sheep-covered hillsides. Strawberry sugar tarts, tendor rides, and swimming bike racks made for boats. Tom Foolery's tree, little boys screaming in the stocks, and blanket-covered nights on Bali beds with new friends. Locks and docks and fuzzy pups. An ancient library that goes on for days. Baby owlets begging for attention and minstrel orchestras. Just the smell of Whitehaven alone makes your ringlets return. A few beautiful days in a tiny ocean-side town dips your mind back into the sea and leaves your ability to create thoughts behind.

Cobh, Ireland

Cobh and a day in Killarney. Big-butted boats, yellow ticky-tacky houses in a row, pavilion parks by the sea, and empty beer kegs lining the back roads. Roaming dogs and apple tarts, tire swings and blue balcony views. Drinks at a regatta bar, stairs straight to water, St. Coleman’s Cathedral, FOTA Gardens and Plantation, and finding clean feathers in Irish mud. Broken towers and nights at Kelly’s Bar. Muckross House with albino crows, extinct moose, and child-height staircases. Windy mountain gaps and calling sheep, deserted towers and railroad houses. A leap of complete joy. Days of nothing but throwing your arms up into the air, laughing at the sun.

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin was filled with days of colorful doors and uneven ground, brilliant moments in and out of Fitz Simon's rooftop, evenings at The National Gallery and ballrooms with opera-singing waiters. Aga Khan Horse show-jumping events with equestrian markets, Caravaggio's "Taking of the Christ." A private Riverdance performance, big hats and bag pipes. Cranberry trees and scribbling on bridges. Flatbread pizzas and apple smoothies, feeding the leftovers to king swans. Marble slabs made for outdoor napping and sparkling boxes made for nothing but peeking. Bali bed adventures at 4am to the sounds of ship yard clanking, boat horns, and seagull calls. Screaming horses, leather backpacks, and warped mirrors.

Grafton Street shopping, more nights on the Bali beds, and floral gardens. Street performing showcasing sand sculpting, puppet dancing, singing Elton John, white faced monks, and lollipop vendors. Harp players and artists sketching murals on the sidewalk. Taxi rides and three course meals. Traditional 3-piece Irish band and tiny little dancers. A tugboat out to sea to finish.