Letters to a Kindred Spirit

Monday, May 25, 2009

I spent this weekend in Sunset Beach, NC, a quaint sandy haven about 30 miles south of Wilmington sandwiched between Ocean Isle and Myrtle Beach. Like many NC beaches, the scenery was beautiful, especially because of the lack of commercialization and absence of high rise hotels on the ocean front making it one of those few beaches where mom and pop shops still reign over cookie cutter chain stores and restaurants. 

There's also a great deal of wildlife at Sunset, and I saw four deer in the dunes outside of our rental just during the short three days we were there! I also found a large beautiful conch, and dozens of hermit crabs in the tidal pools by the shoreline.

The beach is aptly named for its beautiful sunsets.
Photo Source: City Data

My favorite part of the beach, which can be accessed by a one-lane swinging pontoon bridge that is the last of it's kind on the East Coast, is Bird Island. A small barrier island to the West of Sunset Beach, Bird Island is beautiful and offers its quiet, sandy shores for barefoot beach walkers, wildlife lovers, seashell collectors and soul seekers alike. Aside from its obvious natural beauty, there's one long-time local tradition that causes a bit of magic to float in the air. Just when you think you've walked right to the edge of the island, there in the dunes is a simple, ebony mailbox in the sand with the golden words "Kindred Spirit" on its side.

The Kindred Spirit mailbox has been visited by thousands 
over the past 27 years.
Photo Source: Sea Trail

It would be so easy to miss if you weren't looking for it, but I had listened closely to the walking directions I received (for those who wish to visit the Kindred Spirit mailbox, read on for more on where to find it). 

As soon I heard about the Kindred Spirit mailbox, I knew I had to see it for myself. The mailbox is filled with notebooks, pens and pencils along with the stories and tales of all the travelers who've journeyed to this place. Each entry begins with the phrase "Dear Kindred Spirit." The journals are filled with prayers, wishes, thanksgivings, personal stories and more - each writer adding his or her own bits of wisdom to the collection. 

An empty wooden park bench sits just in front of the Kindred Spirit mailbox, offering its oceanfront seat to visitors who've journeyed to this spot so they're able to read the stories and share their own. 

Then, once the notebooks and journals are complete, they're mailed to their mysterious owner - the Kindred Spirit - who lovingly reads, collects and saves each spiralbound book of stories. 

You may find it a bit funny that this Kindred Spirit has a Web presence as well. But I can't imagine emailing the Kindred Spirit being as powerful as that long beach walk to that quiet sanctuary. And being able to read what others wrote is at least half the experience. 

If you'd like to visit the Kindred Spirit mailbox yourself, from the last public Sunset Beach pier make a right and head southwest. It's about an hour walk there and back. Like most things in life, it's about the journey, especially in a world where every thing else seems instantaneous. After a mile and a quarter, you'll see a second flag pole, and you'll find the mailbox there at the foot of it. 

So if you're feeling like you just need to escape from the daily grind, go and get away. Watch a sunset, hold hands with someone you love and maybe even write a letter to someone you've never met.

Here Comes the Bachelorette

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bachelorette parties are one of those milestone celebrations in a woman's life. It's a time to remember and cherish; one last night out with the girl's before becoming a "Mrs."

But there are so many of the bachelorette cliches. From male strippers to penis paraphernalia, it truly is amazing what a Google search of "bachelorette party" will unearth. Is a pole dancing class my idea of a fun night out on the town? Do I really want strange men eating candy necklace pieces off of me or worse? Not so much. 

That's not to say I wouldn't mind throwing a few martinis back with my bestests, but I think there's a level of class that should be maintained, and I also think that some of the tired themes can be done away with or remade anew.

Throw a bachelorette party that's tasteful in more ways than one
with this super cute and colorful cake!
Source: Cake Central

Bachelorette Party, Prep School Style
For example, I stumbled across one creative and fun idea on the MyRecipes blog, a Bachelorette Bar Golf Classic. Suddenly that sweater vest you thought you'd never wear again may be a cute addition to an argyle ensemble. The bachelorette party featured on the post included a dinner of fish and chips complete with frosty mugs at an Irish pub followed by a night out on the town. 

This bride scored better than par when her friend threw a 
golf-themed bachelorette party for her!
Photo Source: MyRecipes.com Blog

Red Carpet Not Included
Is going to a bar not your idea of a fun night with the girls? What about a dinner and dessert crawl? Sample several restaurants by choosing one for appetizers, one for dinner (or more appetizers) and then another for dessert. You'll get to sample a range of tasty entrees all in one eclectic evening! Dress it up and ride in style with a stretch limosine as your transportation for the evening. Be sure to have a toast of bubbly to the bride-to-be en route! Give her a tiara to wear and she'll really feel like queen for the evening. 

This bubble-gum pink bachelorette crown by Gabriela Delworth 
is a fun royal accessory for the bride-to-be.
Photo Source: Gabriela Delworth

Get Away Before Going to the Chapel
Or, why not make a weekend of it? Round up your closest gal pals for a road trip to a fun destination. Whether you pack up and head to the beach for a weekend in the sun, the mountains for a camping and hiking wilderness trip or to the city for shopping and wining and dining. Or, if you and you're friends have money in the cash cow, hop a plane or train to a destination of your choice. If I suddenly hit the lottery tomorrow, I think the ladies and I would be headed to California for a weekend of wine country. 

For more road trip inspiration, check out Roadside America, a site that has a cross-country list of wild and wacky road side attractions that will make for an unforgettable weekend trip.

A destination is optional and a car full of friends is a must for 
a pre-wedding girls getaway!
Photo Source: www.RawStyle.com 

Jack and Jill: A Co-Ed Option
Many couples today are opting to do a "Jack and Jill" party over the more traditional and separate bachelor and bachelorette parties. Essentially the idea is that the wed-to-be couple invites friends and family to a joint party where members of both sexes are invited. Obviously the activities will need to be ones that satisfy the interests of both groups if you go this route, so don't plan to offer spa activities or a cigar tasting unless this is something that all of your friends like to do. A Jack and Jill party may be a money-saving option for some, and it's also a good solution if you and your future hubby have a small close group of the same friends who may want to celebrate together. Pick a fun theme like Greek gods and goddesses so that your friends can don old-school style togas with wreaths of leaves and enjoy wine and tasty Mediterranean finger food. The bride, of course, will enjoy being the celebrated Goddess of Love for the evening! 

Go Greek goddess Mama Mia-style for a fun party theme. 
Photo Source: About.com 

If you're still stumped, The Everything Bachelorette Party Book is like the Bible of bachelorette party planning, so it may be wise to invest in a copy if you anticipate being a repeat maid-of-honor or designated party planner. 

Or, to know what not to do, read The Bachelorette Party by Karen McCullah Lutz (co-author of the screenplay for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days). It's a fun read of a seemingly tame bachelorette party gone wrong. Whether you're already hitched, getting married in 10 months or 10 years, it's a book that every girl will enjoy.

A Moveable Feast Part II

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

After looking through some of my old travel itineraries and plans for last summer's trip, I stumbled upon a valuable list of great places to picnic in London that I just had to share after my last post was so Paris-focused. While the fickle weather may make planning a London picnic a bit more difficult, if the cards are in your favor then a British picnic could be quite fun! 

This Picnic Spots in London guide by View, A Londoner's Guide to London, has a lot of really great recommendations. In addition to some of the off the beaten path places this article spotlights, I think some other noteworthy spots include:

St. James Park

Located near Buckingham Palace and Westminister Abbey, St. James Park is a perfect place to lunch while exploring this magnificent part of the city. One of the royal parks of London, St. James Park is home to a beautiful variety of flowers as well as wildlife such as ducks, geese and pelicans, who enjoy the park's small lake. The park is used for national celebrations because of its proximity to the Queen's palace. 

St. James Park is a beautiful London park that's near
Buckingham Palace and Westminister Abbey. Can you see the palace
peeking through the trees across the lake?
Photo Source: Self

Hyde Park

While it rained the day we visited Hyde Park, we still enjoyed walking among the gardens and memorials of the extensive park. Points of interest include a memorial to Princess Diana as well as London's Holocaust Memorial. We ended up going to several museums that day including the Victoria & Albert Museum, which ended up being quite impressive although not as noteworthy as The National Gallery or, for modern art lovers, the Tate.

St. Paul's Cathedral

While climbing to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral was probably my favorite activity in London, particularly because of the incredible view from the top, you can still enjoy the architecture and gardens of the church by dining nearby. Kris and I relished our meal from Paul's, an excellent chain eatery with a restaurant close to the church. Enjoy your picnic style meal at the tables behind St. Paul's or if you can find a spare bench in the gardens!

Enjoy a picnic meal outside of St. Paul's Cathedral after climbing 
259 steps to the top for a scenic view of London!
Photo Source: About.com

Near the Thames

Picknicking near the Thames seems like an almost compulsory tradition during summers in England. It's just a matter of where. This River Thames guide has a number of possible picnic places, but I would recommend finding a one near the heart of it all close to the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the City Hall.

If you're looking for picnicking made easy (although I'm not sure this is a strategy to eat on the cheap), Gridskipper has created a map of places in London that sell ready-made gourmet picnic baskets. Check out the full article and map here.

A Moveable Feast

Monday, May 4, 2009

I've decided that it's time to spill my number one travel tip of all times. Not only is this a valuable takeaway for the budget-conscious traveler, but you may also be surprised to find that this secret will help you to immerse yourself in your new surroundings in an unforgettable and even romantic way. So what's my million dollar tip? Picnicking.
The Royal Gardens in Paris was one of our favorite places to picnic. 
Photo Source: Self

As a just-out-of-college couple, Kris and I were on a shoestring budget for our European adventure last summer, especially considering all the places on our itinerary that were exactly on the cheap particularly with a weak dollar up against the pound and the euro. After reading stacks of travel guides and doing due diligence research, we had created full itineraries for each day of our three week vacation. Surprisingly we stuck pretty well to our itineraries (with the exception of a missed early morning train to Brussels), and we also managed to stay within our budget range, which was pretty impressive considering it was our first time traveling together in Europe.

So how did we keep our costs down? Well aside from enlisting the trusty services of STA to handle the booking of our hostels and surprisingly nice hotels, we made a concerted effort to keep our food costs down, but without sacrificing taste. After all, what a waste it would be to travel to another country and not have the opportunity to sample the culture's culinary offerings. So we balanced out our cuisine costs in several ways. First, we took advantage of breakfast that was included at our hotels and hostels. With breakfast out of the way for most of our trip we made plans to eat dinner at a few nice and more expensive restaurants while we picnicked for most of our lunches and for some dinners.

While the rain stopped us from picnicking in the beautiful gardens
adjacent to Musee Rodin, we still enjoyed walking among the rows of colorful roses.
Photo Source: Self

Believe it or not, picnicking in different parts of the cities that we visited actually ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip.  I'll forever cherish our picnics under the breezy blue Parisian sky. So how did we do it? Each morning we would set off and pick up a freshly-baked baguette (just follow your nose, bakeries seem to be on every street corner in Paris), cheese, fruit and a bottle of French wine from a close by shop or supermarket. Then we stowed away our treasures in Kris's backpack until we found the perfect place for a picnic in whatever part of the city we'd planned to be in for the day. For example, for the day we spent in the Louvre, we picnicked close by in the Royal Gardens, a beautiful area of the city with white rose gardens, tree-lined paths and fountains galore. With so much to see at one of the world's most famous museums, it was nice to dip our feet in one of the fountains and spend time in the summer sun without having to find a restaurant (and they all charge an arm and a leg if you're near the Louvre), waiting for a table and for food to be served. Instead we were able to come and go as we pleased and after a nice satisfying meal we returned to walk along more of the famed corridors. We even got to watch part of a movie being filmed in the garden while we ate. 

So what are my tips for picnicking success? There are so many beautiful parks in Paris and in Europe, so you have the fortune of many different picnic locations to chose from. Do your research and you'll have some special memories in some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Also, pack food early in the day before you become hungry so that you don't have to take time-consuming detours to satisfy your stomach.  

Sharing dinner on the lawns below Sacre Coeur made for 
the beginning of an enchanting evening in Montmarte.
Photo Source: Self

Other important pieces of picnic wisdom: Don't  forget to pack a wine opener and cups or glasses to drink from. We had a supply of plastic cups each day in our hotel room that we packed along with cutlery and napkins. Some stores and supermarkets had plastic eating utensils on hand, but with a language barrier it wasn't always easy to ask for these. Finally, be conscious of the weather forecast. If you're visiting London, it may be more difficult to plan regular picnics, whereas we were blessed with consistently amazing weather in Paris. Finally, be aware that although many parks in Paris and elsewhere may have beautifully manicured lawn space, unlike in America, this isn't necessarily up for grabs.  Many gardens and parks in Paris fenced off their lawn space keeping visitors from treading (and eating) in these areas. However, you'll find that there's usually not a shortage of park benches, so grab a seat without a cultural faux paus

On our last day in Paris, Kris and I enjoyed lunch on the banks 
of the Seine with Notre Dame in sight.
Photo Source: Self

The best piece of advice that I could offer is to just soak it all in and carpe diem, seize the moment. 

Best Places to Picnic in Paris 
1. Beneath the Eiffel Tower at dusk. A special treat awaits you as dark approaches. 
2. On the lawn of Sacre Coeur, especially on a weekend evening when the youth of Paris enjoy music and entertainment. Watch the sunset from the beautiful steps of the church, which is the highest point in Paris. 
3. In the Royal Gardens as a lunchtime break from the Louvre.
4. In Luxembourg Gardens. Watch children race toy sailboats in the fountain.
5. On the banks of the Seine with Notre Dame in full view. Enjoy watching riverboats pass you by.
6. In the gardens of Musee Rodin where you'll find the famous "Thinker" statue among a colorful orchestra of blooms.
7. In Place des Vosges, a romantic garden where you may hear a violinist play from time to time. It's also the oldest square in Paris. 

A couple other notable picnic spots include: 

1. Nice, France. Any picnic lunch you could ever dream up is waiting for you at the Cours Saleya Flower Market in Old Nice. Take your pick among the savory tables of treats and then climb La Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill) for phenomenal views of the city. Beautiful waterfalls cascade down the mountainside in the park at top that's littered with ruins of a 6th century chateau. Grab a picnic bench overlooking the beautiful view of the ocean and of neat rows of docked sailboats and yachts. 

Kris and I dined on the fattest olives we've ever had, which were soaked in olive oil and basil. We had delicious, juicy and ripe red raspberries and freshly baked focaccia bread with sun-dried tomatoes. It was a meal fit for a king that cost less than we ever would have paid for one meal for one person at one of the local restaurants! And we enjoyed it from the most breathtaking view of the city!

Kris and I posed in front of a waterfall at the park in the Chateau 
after enjoying a fresh picnic we picked up from 
the famous flower market in Old Nice.
Photo Source: Self

2. While we didn't picnic at Versailles, this would have been the picnic among all picnics! The extensive gardens are beautiful, and there is plenty of lawn space near the main channel where we watched the Grandes Eaux Musicales fountain show begin in the late afternoon. 

So where is your favorite picnic spot in the world? I'd love to hear of any suggestions!  Bonne nuit!

Shananigans - by Templates para novo blogger