After exploring around Rock City and Ruby Falls all morning and afternoon we had built up quite the appetite. We were looking for a restaurant that would give us a big meal for our money.
We found Tony's Pasta Shop & Trattoria after searching around Yelp! and other review services. We were so glad we found this quaint little restaurant on the bank of the Tennessee River, in the cute Bishop Arts District.
We each started with some local brews while we waited outside for our table. Once we sat down we ordered the Fried Cheese Ravioli to start and we talked more about how much fun we had earlier that day. After devouring our appetizer, my other two friends ordered The Low Country Linguine for their entree while I ordered the Spaghetti Con Crudo with a Caesar Salad.
The homemade pasta with their fresh ingredients made for an incredible pairing of flavors in all of our dishes. We were so glad we stumbled upon this wonderful Italian pasta house.
Rock City was on my list of must-dos for our Girls’ Weekend in Chattanooga. I have been to Chattanooga a dozen times but had never made it to this famous attraction. I was so glad that I was able to go with two of my best friends because we were able to act like children and let our imaginations run wild at this fun landmark.
We really didn’t know what to expect, which added to our fun. We started at the Garden’s Gateway Gift Shop and made our way down the trail. We passed through the open garden that is The Grand Corridor before coming into the narrow slot canyons of Gnome Valley. The Needle’s Eye led us to the first gnome arrangement.
We continued to see them throughout the canyon and surrounding gardens. The various flowers weren’t in bloom, but I can only imagine how beautiful they must be in the spring. Goblin’s Underpass was the only remaining stop before our favorite part of the trail.
The Swing-A-Long Bridge is a 180-foot suspension bridge with a breathtaking view. My one friend and I enjoyed terrorizing our other friend by jumping and running on the bridge. She nor the kids behind us were big fans, but we were having too much fun to stop!
The bridge leads to a wonderful view of Rock City’s main attractions: Lover’s Leap, High Falls, and the Seven States Flag Court. You start by taking in all their beauty from an observation point before making your way across the Sky Bridge over High Falls to arrive at the Seven State’s Flag Court. The view is incredible from atop Lookout Mountain, and you can see farmland for miles and can even spot one of the famous “See Rock City” barns.
We marveled at the many views and pointed out different sites before we started our descent along the trail. We passed through Fat Man’s Squeeze and Rainbow Hall on our way to another great view of the falls. After a quick picture, we headed back into the canyons to discover the best part of the gardens.
We read on one of the plaques that the original owner’s wife loved European folklore, but we didn’t expect the incredible black-light displays that were inside of Fairyland Caverns. We walked around the pitch black hallway admiring the miniature recreations of fairy tales and nursery rhymes that were built into the walls. The hallway led to Mother Goose’s Village, which hosts a massive and incredible tabletop display of nursery rhymes centered around a castle and surrounded by a moat.
The wonderful display of characters and creations was a charming way to wrap up a great day at Rock City. My girlfriends and I had a spectacular time admiring the waterfalls, looking out over the miles of landscape, and wandering through Rock City’s various, themed sites. I would recommend giving yourself plenty of time to see everything this Georgia/Tennessee landmark has to offer.
Ruby Falls is one of Chattanooga’s prized possessions. I was lucky enough to have grown up coming here on field trips in elementary school, but neither of the other girls on our Weekend Trip to Chattanooga had been, so we made sure to go!
After spending the morning at Rock City, we made the quick drive across Lookout Mountain to Ruby Falls. Surprisingly, we were greeted by a line out the door, and our pre-purchased tickets gave us no privilege in line. After our 45-minute wait, we were standing at the doors of the elevator and waiting to go down the 260-foot elevator into the cavern.
This is the same shaft that the explorer Leo Lewis created in the early 1900s when he found the falls. The most incredible thing to me was that they crawled in a one and a half foot high opening for 17-hours roundtrip discovering the falls. On the tour, you get to see the original crawl tunnel; I felt claustrophobic just thinking about being in there in the pitch black.
Since the walkways are still extremely small, our group of probably 40 had to walk in a single file line that made it very hard for our tour guide to point things out as we were walking. Instead, they have built-in P.A. systems that give you information and point out the viewpoints along the tour. There are very cool natural formations like the Tobacco Leaves, the Elephant’s Foot, and one really cool hands-on formation.
We arrived at our last stop before the falls, and our guide told us to look up and around the falls to see from where the water originally fell. Once the previous tour came out, we walked into a very dark opening and followed the sound of the rushing water right to the fall.
The lights slowly began to turn on from the bottom of the formations, and before we knew it, we were face to face with the beautiful, 126-foot high, underground waterfall. We stood in awe for so long that we forgot to get a decent picture in front of the falls when it was lit with white light.
Only a few minutes in front of this natural wonder was not enough. I hope when John and I come back, we go on an extended tour or a lantern tour. Ruby Falls was absolutely mesmerizing and I am so glad I got to take my two friends for their first time experiencing this
Brooke’s home in Mobile, Alabama, was a perfect place for Taylor and I to stay while enjoying a weekend of Mardi Gras festivities. The quaint home is less than five blocks from Government Street, where the parade route and bars are located, and it's tucked into a quiet neighborhood.
Beautifully decorated rooms were stocked with everything a guest could ask for, including towels, dishes, and recommendations. Making us feel right at home. Taylor and I weren’t able to take advantage of Brooke’s pool on this trip, but it would’ve been a welcome accommodation had we been visiting in the summer.
The Dublin Castle is full of royal treasures; from a golden hilted sword to silver plated cutlery, the castle is home to items of great importance to Irish and European history. Taylor and I walked less than a block from our Dublin Castle Airbnb and purchased tickets to explore the State Apartments.
Our self-guided tour began at the “Connolly Room” where the Easter Rising icon James Connolly lay wounded as a prisoner of the British Empire. The gravity of his situation could nearly be felt as Taylor and I read the enormous infographic displays. Connolly would be executed for his role as an Irish Republican, but his memory and influence has defied death to this day in Ireland.
The next room held two items steeped in royal tradition and ceremony. The Irish Sword of State was commissioned in 1660 and hadn’t seen Irish shores for 95 years. Meticulous decorations trace the edges of the blade to its golden hilt where Ireland, England, and Scotland are symbolized. The second item was a gift to King George IV in 1821. The shamrock-shaped box made of Bog Oak is accented with gold and encrusted with diamonds and pearls. An Irish inscription reads ‘May God Bless You’.
As Taylor and I strolled through the lavish halls and rooms, we discovered countless artworks royal decoration, and exquisite furniture. Several perfectly decorated Christmas trees were still on display with gifts of unimaginable fortune stacked in front of a regal hearth.
As we continued, an exhibition of fine china, opulent utensils, and crystal glasses showed the typical table setting for a castle dinner. Large, featured oil paintings lined the walls of the gallery between the dining exhibition and St. Patrick’s Hall.
St. Patrick’s Hall was the last and most grand room Taylor and I stepped foot inside. The tall ceilings were painted with highly impressive scenes reminiscent of Michelangelo’s master work at the Sistine Chapel. Brilliant yellow columns frame windows and mirrors on respective sides of the Hall while a royal blue carpet and wallpaper serve as an accentuating background.
The Hall was the most grand room of our tour, but the the State Apartments of Dublin Castle are extravagant in their entirety. The Apartments not only satisfy those infatuated with royalty but satisfies those of us infatuated with history as well. Taylor and I spent about one and a half hours leisurely exploring each room and exhibit before hitting the streets of Dublin for the remainder of our day.
Trocadero is a fine dining restaurant on St. Andrew’s Street in Dublin, Ireland. Taylor and I were following the recommendation of our cab driver from the night before, and were welcomed to a high-class meal and wonderful atmosphere.
Taylor and I chose to order from a three course, ‘pre-theatre’ menu. The highlights among our courses were Taylor’s prawn and fennel risotto, our sirloin steaks with red onion marmalade and béarnaise sauce, and our Irish coffee to pair with Taylor's tiramisu at the end of the meal.
Although we weren’t expecting white tablecloth, Taylor and I enjoyed the change in pace after our long day walking around Dublin. Trocadero is a sure bet if you’re looking for a fairly nice formal dinner right downtown.
The Parliament Square entrance to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, lead us through magnificent gates to reveal the prominent Campanile bell tower at the edge of Library Square. A sign directed Taylor and I to the Book of Kells exhibit we were looking for.
The Book of Kells is composed of the four gospels of Christ’s disciples: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is a masterpiece of Western Calligraphy on display at Trinity College.
An exhibition on the history, techniques, and literature of the book precedes the room where it is housed. The book is encased along with several smaller manuscripts of comparable age and subject, but no photography of the book is allowed.
Much to our surprise, the self-guided tour was far from over. One flight of stairs above us, thousands of rare books were housed in the Long Room of the Old Library. As people entered and exited the Long Room with reverence, Taylor and I reveled in the extensive collection.
After I’d discovered that the off-limits collection could only be viewed by students under strict guidelines, we hit the streets of Dublin to continue our journey.
The Blarney Castle is named for the fabled stone that is built into it. The Blarney Stone brings visitors from various foreign nations to come kiss it and earn the gift of eloquence, but Taylor and I found the surrounding property to be more mystical than the cherished stone.
Rain lingered and was replaced by a light fog as Taylor and I explored the grounds. The first feature we noticed was a stone circle named the Seven Sisters. A certain Irish king is said to have ordered two of the nine stones be knocked over to leave seven standing sisters after his two sons were killed in battle.
Walking past the ancient Yew “Three Wise Men” left Taylor and I standing among tall bamboo and heading toward bog waterfalls. Beyond the bog lay woodland trails that wind through the property.
We found a bubbling spring, a lush green pasture, and a fallen tree shaped into a throne before being lead to the Wishing Steps. Posted information suggested that a certain method of ascending the stairs would grant one wish from the inhabitant of the several thousand year old Witch’s Kitchen atop the steps.
The Witch’s Kitchen is a cave-like opening complete with a chimney and tucked under the root system of a large, dark tree. This dwelling was nearly as impressive in its own right as the one we’d walk to next.
The Blarney Castle that stands today was built in 1446 by the King of Munster. Its Great Hall is smaller than I’d expected, but the remainder of the castle is more extensive than I could’ve imagined. Chambers, halls, and a ‘murder pit’ were all along the climb to the top of castle where the stone was lay into the wall.
We made it to the top of the castle to find two gentlemen tasked with helping visitor’s literally bend over backward to kiss the stone. Once we’d been imparted with a mystical experience and kissed a stone, we left to prepare for another night in Ballincollig.
After an unbelievably delicious breakfast at Hatch and Son’s, Taylor and I crossed the street into an oasis of Dublin. As we entered St. Stephen’s Green, Taylor and I were engulfed in a mass of pigeons flying toward a child with bird food. Once we were free from the flock, we discovered all that St. Stephen’s Green has to offer.
St. Stephens is one of the most beautiful features of Dublin. An oblong pond extends the length of one side of the park and is crossed in the middle by the O’Connell stone bridge. The bridge is guarded on either side by picturesque Weeping Ash trees. The opposite side of the park is a grassy recreation area shaded by some of the park’s 700+ trees. The footpaths from either side converge on the central green that boasts several vibrant flower beds and small trees.
During our walk around the park, Taylor and I noticed several monuments including The O’Donovan Rossa. This large stone is set with the likeness of prominent Irish Republican Brotherhood member Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. We also found The Three Fates, the WolfeTone & Famine Memorial, and the statue of Lord Ardilaun. Whether you visit the park for the monuments, the green scenery, or the birds, it’s a perfect retreat from the buzzing Dublin city streets.
Our hosts in County Cork recommended that, when in Dublin, Taylor and I go to the ‘real’ O’Donoghue’s Irish Pub. ‘The real’ O’Donoghue’s has stood near St. Stephen's Green since 1934 and is most well known for the music it has played host to over the years. There is another, newer location one located on Suffolk Street.
Taylor and I walked to O’Donoghue’s from The Temple Bar late on our last night in Ireland. The rectangular, bright white sign with black lettering shone over Merrion Row. It was unmistakable after we’d walked past St. Stephen’s Green. Inside, the pub’s walls are virtually covered with framed photos, and the air was buzzing with music and conversation.
A band sat in the corner by the front door and filled the pub with Irish melodies. A lively crowd had gathered to listen to the music, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. We enjoyed Guinness by candlelight and reflected upon our week. The pub was warm and welcoming, just as all of Ireland had been to us.
The Guinness Storehouse at Saint James's Gate, is a very historic site in Dublin that will be there, according to the current lease, for another 8,741 years. Currently, it is a storehouse, museum, and bar.
The museum and bar highlight the creation and successes of Guinness beer. The first couple of floors are dedicated to the brewing process and the beer’s four ingredients: barley, yeast, hops, and water. The final two floors are where the product is tested.
The first floor is solely dedicated to the four ingredients and uses some cool visuals to represent each one and its job. As you move up the museum, you move further through the brewing process. You move through roasting, fermentation, storing, and pouring.
There is a lot of history about Arthur Guinness, the company, and the city of Dublin. Our favorite part was the “World of Gilroy” that displayed all the great Guinness advertisements that were created by John Gilroy.
We skipped the long lines for the pouring academies and went straight up to The Gravity Bar to get our complimentary pint of Guinness before meeting up with an old high school friend of mine. Viewing Dublin from atop the Gravity Bar was the perfect way to start our first night in the city.
John and I were fortunate enough to stay with La and her husband on very short notice. Their apartment is near the city center and very clean. We were provided the amenities: wifi, full bathroom, and kitchen access. We did not spend much time at the apartment, but our hosts were kind and accommodating when we were there.
Follow our Airbnb link to get $40 off your first booking: www.airbnb.com/c/taylorc1809
Pinterest rarely fails John and I for recommendations, and the Huffington Post article that lead us to Hatch & Sons was a spectacular find. The restaurant uses all local ingredients to craft their Irish menu.
All of the food melted in our mouths as we tried to think of a better breakfast. I swooned over my “Pulled Spice Brisket Blaas” while John savored his “Double Baked Eggs and Bacon”.
After enjoying an entire pot of tea between us and hardy meals, we took our full bellies to St. Stephen’s Green for a lovely afternoon stroll.
Ireland is home to many small fishing towns. John and I were fortunate to be able to check out Kinsale in County Cork during our week long trip through the beautiful country. Our trip through Kinsale started with a quick drive through the town on our way to The Old Head of Kinsale.
The cliffs surrounding this elite golf course are massive drop-offs that chop and break the water every few seconds. When you go to see the cliffs, you arrive at an old beaten down tower, and take a path towards the edge. John and I were intrigued to explore the edges of these walls, but the wind too blustery, and we deemed it best to stay back from the edge.
We then drove up the hill a short distance and crossed through a patch of thick grass to the next walking path. This on led us to greater views of an entire side of the cliffs in all their glory. After several pictures and cautious steps, we headed back to the car to go back into the town.
Kinsale was pretty much shut down for New Years Eve except for a few restaurants and pubs. Myself, John, and our two hosts wandered around the town looking at the brightly colored houses and window displays. I wish we had been able to have some local fish n’ chips, but we saved it for our next visit!
One of the things John knew he wanted to go to in Cork City was Blackrock Castle. To our surprise, our host, who grew up right outside of Cork City, said he had never been. It was a pretty good place to tour while stuck in a rainstorm, except for when we got to the top of the main tower.
The “castle” was never really a castle, because no one lived in it. It was actually a gunnery used to keep pirates from coming up the River Lee beyond the reach of the British Navy. An additional tower was added so that royalty could have extravagant parties there.
The castle is now used as an observatory and research lab. Unfortunately, we missed the last planetarium show, because it was sold out. We were able to walk around the museum and see all kinds of video presentations about the nature of space and the research happening at Blackrock.
About an hour and a half south of Ballincollig, just outside of Skibereen, is the site of the ancient Druid Altar - The Drombeg Stone Circle. It took a quick walk along an old, cobblestone path to get to the site. When we arrived, it felt like we had walked back in time.
Although I was a bit disappointed in the size of the stones, we learned several things about the formations and the culture of that time. The most amazing thing about this site is that archaeologists can't say exactly what this stone circle was used for. It is said to be a burial ground, because a youth’s cremation remains were found in the middle of the formation. What can't be said is who the child was or why he or she was buried in such elaborate fashion. Some believe it was a sacrificial altar, but no one knows for sure.
Next to the stone circle is a "fulacht fiadh" which is believed to have been used to boil water, but its uses have been debated among archaeologists. Some believe it was used for cooking. Others believe it was used for dying clothes, while others believe it may have had ritualistic significance.
Regardless of the uses, seeing the stones in person and imagining the ancient Celtic civilization that lived on these lands gave me chills. It is truly thought provoking to visit ancient sites like this one.
John and I were very lucky to snag a two-night stay at this basic apartment right in the heart of downtown Dublin. The apartment is practically connected to the Dublin Castle and within a rock's throw from City Hall.
Even though we never met our host, Marco sent us an email with detailed instructions on how to get to the apartment and how to check in. It also included a list of restaurants sorted by distance and categorized by categories: traditional, hipster, beer, and live music.
Wifi, a towel, a shower, and a hair dryer were the basic amenities provided. There was another guest staying in the apartment and traveling from our favorite city, Chicago. We enjoyed the convenience of the location and slept well both nights.
Book your first stay on Airbnb and save $40 using this code: www.airbnb.com/c/taylorc1809
After an early morning of megalithic wonders at The Drombeg Stone Circle and pre-meal wanderings through The English Market, we had worked up an appetite by the time we arrived at this heavenly restaurant.
It is pretty cool to see the sausages in the market then see them cooked right in front of you. These magnificent foot-long creations are topped in one of their six combinations of toppings.
I chose the “Pana Dog” with BBQ sauce and pulled pork. John had “The Original” with all of the condiments, sweet chili, and onions. We split a side of fried potatoes with garlic mayo. I wish we had regular access to a meal as tasty as this one was.
Before arriving in Ireland, I knew it was pertinent to ask our friends to take John and I to the English Market. When you walk into the market you don't feel like you are in a building almost as old as America itself. Instead, you feel like you are in a modern day market.
The smell of fresh fish fills the air, but it doesn't distract from the wonderful cheeses and spices on display just a few stalls over. It took restraint for John and I to keep from buy anything, but we knew most anything could complicate our flights home.
Unfortunately, the restaurant upstairs was closed due to the New Year's holiday. Instead, our friends took us to O’Flynn’s Sausage Gourmet Sausages just down the street to get a different taste of the market.
The Mabry Mill is a historic site near milepost 176.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Edwin Mabry began construction of his mill in 1903 and operated it as a saw and gristmill until 1938. The National Park Service acquired the property and maintains it today.
Rhododendron bushes welcome visitors and line a boardwalk to the grounds of the Mabry property. The boardwalk crosses an aqueduct that carries water to the overshot mill wheel. The mill, blacksmith’s shop, and sorghum mill were closed for Veteran’s Day weekend, but glimpes through their walls were glimpses into the past.
The Matthew’s Home isn’t original to the Mabry property but was moved from nearby. After its move, weather proofing lumber was added to aide in preservation. The additional lumber prevented our peering inside, but the exterior alone provided a sobering comparison to our modern living.
The tools of days past were also on display throughout the grounds. A soap-making recipe and cauldron, a mule-drawn plow, and a lumber drying rack give visitors an idea of the labor performed by the Mabry family. The last stop along the walk about of the property is a whiskey still nestled in a hickory bottom at the end of an aqueduct.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a drive into wilderness and history. The Mabry Mill is one of its sites that provide beautiful scenery and an opportunity to learn about lifestyles of the past.
On our way to Floyd, Virginia, for the Veteran’s Day Weekend with my family, we stopped for a late breakfast just outside of Chattanooga. John and I both needed to get some work done, so we chose a restaurant with hearty food and good coffee.
John managed to inhale this entire “Mega Biscuit”. It was full of sausage, spinach, and onions, all with an egg on top. I made a mess of my “Farmhouse Biscuit”. The tomato jam and caramelized onions on top of a piece of cheese were too slippery even for my fork and knife! It caused the whole biscuit to fall apart. The bites that I managed to get all of the ingredients together were delicious.
John and I happened to stumble upon Floyd while on a vacation with my aunt, uncle, and younger cousins. Turns out, Floyd is a cute town that has been voted one of the 'South’s Best Small Towns' by Southern Living. This place turned out to be much more interesting than the prim and proper ladies in the magazine made it out to be.
The self-described underemployed artists of Floyd deemed their town, ”The Republic of Floyd”. Basically, this town seemed like a large hippie commune founded soon after Woodstock. That being said, the town was adorable, the storekeepers were all very nice, and the art work was incredible.This town seemed to have a great back story and some interesting residents. John and I hope to come back for the famed “Floyd Fest” and get a true feel for the people of Floyd.
Ever wonder what life is like in rural Appalachia? Spend a weekend in Willis, Virginia, and you will soon find out. The Buffalo Mountain Getaway is located 30 minutes from the closest city and is part of a local beef farm.
It was also the perfect place for me and my uncle’s family to get together for the weekend. We spent hours playing board games on the kitchen table, while keeping an eye on the college football games playing in the living room.
The house’s three bedrooms accommodated the six of us perfectly, and the kitchen was large enough to create wonderful meals each night for dinner. If you are ever looking to visit one of “the country’s greatest small towns” make sure to stay at the Buffalo Mountain Getaway to get the real experience.
Ted and Kim were our Airbnb hosts for our weekend in Atlanta. Their spacious double bedded guest room was perfect for Taylor, Megan, Katie, and myself. We were able to come in late at night without quarrel and were enthusiastically offered advice of places to go, things to see, and where to eat.
The location near Grant Park makes for a stellar ‘base camp’ and returning to an absolutely gorgeous house never hurts. We had access to the kitchen, wifi, television, and a private bathroom stocked with towels. We couldn’t have asked for much more from Ted and Kim.
Late into Saturday night, Taylor, Megan, and I weren’t ready to Uber back to our Airbnb without a meal. R-Thomas was recommended by our waiter at Pasta Da Pulcinella, and it did not disappoint.
As we exited our Uber, the eccentric appearance of the late-night Atlanta staple couldn’t be ignored. Painted pumpkins, flowers, and grasses surrounded American flags and a uniquely decorated Statue of Liberty. The inside of the restaurant featured a pink and green color scheme accented by beaded blinds portraying tropical scenes of palm trees and cockatoos.
Our intrigue of the place was quickly and politely interrupted by a busy waitress. Several bystanders had recommended the wings as we made our way to the table, and we couldn't resist. A delightful order of raw hummus later, our wings arrived. They were absolutely mouth watering. Coupled with a coconut delight smoothie, this may have been the best food we could’ve ordered at three in the morning.