Then suddenly it sweeps over me, Florence, Italy

Italy

Hey guys, so it turns out Florence is really fucking beautiful! It’s full of amazing art and lovely bars and surrounded by properly gorgeous rolling countryside that is sort of like quintessentially English countryside but somehow more sun drenched and misty and lovely. I realise this is common knowledge for the thousands of tourists who flock there every year but somehow I missed it. 

As far as commutes into town go, it certainly beats the 55 down Hackney Road

Home for my two day stay was a lovely old house up on a hill about two miles southeast of the city. A real Airbnb gem, this great lil BnB is run by Claire, her son Stefano and their lovely housekeeper Nico. After dropping my bags in my (enormous) room and admiring my lemon yellow 70s bathroom of dreams I set off on the leasurely 45 minute walk into town, down cobbled streets flanked so closely by stone walls I’m amazed a single car fits down them. In my usual way I had done absolutely no research so followed my nose around town, spending a faintly ridiculous amount of money on hand marbled postcards and trying to remember which way I had come from. I paused at the river to get my bearings and generally marvel at quite how photogenic the whole situation was. It was then that I remembered the ever knowledgeable Curious Pear had done a city guide to Florence, and after consulting it decided to head to Gurdulu for dinner to try the ‘sophisticated, seasonal gourmet cooking’. Of course I was unfashionably early and the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so I popped into a tiny wine bar, Langolino, next door to read my book and kill some time. Two hours, various new friends and more than my fair share of Spumante later, I found myself exiting Langolino in the opposite direction, across Piazza Santo Spirito in search of some famously indulgent gnocchi alla tartufi from Osteria Santo Spirito. Sadly they were fully booked, so my new friend Mariano and I instead found ourselves propping up another bar, drinking boulevardiers and eating olives. After a while we had to admit that fun as it was, it really wasn’t dinner so Mariano led me through town to his favourite sandwhich spot –  All’Antico Vinaio. Even at 10.30pm the queue was out the door, but Mariano snuck us to the front and ordered us two ‘sandwiches’. Huge slabs of fresh focaccia with a great smear of truffle paste, fresh soft cheese, lightly sautéed courgette and fresh rocket. Dio mio. Cheesy chips may never suffice again. Refuelled, we wandered back into the night, but only as far as the steps of the Uffizi gallery where one of Mariano’s friends was busking. Another few hours and another few bottles of wine drunk surreptitiously from plastic cups, eventually I made the slightly wobblier walk back to the house, cursing past me for agreeing to an 8am breakfast.

The Ponte Vecchio at sunset. Show off.


The next morning, my headache and I were met with a delicious breakfast of local jams and toast, before getting the bus back into town to do some culture. In a move that, in hindsight, was possibly ambitious considering the scale of my hangover, I decided to tackle the Uffizi. Home to the largest collection of renaissance art in the world, it is worth braving the crowds to see, though I would recommend drinking at last one less bottle of wine than I had to fully enjoy the experience. After two hours of staring at various enormous visualisations of innocents being slaughtered and so so many terrifying ugly baby Jesuses, I gave up and retreated to a cafe for cake and WiFi and sitting. 

When all I could think off whole looking at this picture was ‘pull my finger’, I figured I’d probably had enough art for one day

When my Airbnb host, Stefano, checked in on me that afternoon to see how I was getting on I explained that I had failed to go for dinner the night before and asked if he had any recommendations. It turned out he actually owns Gurdulu and a couple of other spots around town, so he offered to get me a reservation at any of them or, as a wildcard, to come for dinner with him and some friends in a villa on the other side of town. Never one to say to no a free dinner, I agreed and a few hours later Stefano picked me up and drove, at truly terrifying speed, through the winding roads to the west of the city. The evening that followed was a blur. About 20 people, mostly friends since they were kids, all together in this mad huge beautiful villa, chain smoking and feeding me wine and roasted vegetables and bread and shouting at each other in that uniquely Italian way that simultaneously conveys outrage anger and deep rooted love. Obviously I had less than no idea what was being said most of the time but everyone was lovely and engaging and it made me miss my mad friends back home. 

The next morning, I contemplated my time in Florence and thought about how maybe not reading the guidebooks or doing the research is necessarily the worst mistake. Wandering slightly blindly but, crucially, saying yes to the situations we stumble into often produce the most unexpected and positive results. Maybe slightly less wine next time though.

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

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If we do I’m sure that I’ll miss Bologna

Italy

In a perfect mirroring of our abandonment of this blog midway through our US road trip two years ago, here I resume it midway through another one.

There were no particular reasons for the previous desertion other than laziness, the distractions of life and the overall sadness brought on by writing about a trip that was imminently to be over. But apologies all the same to our 15 loyal readers who no doubt have been stricken for the past two years wondering how it all ended. In short, Vegas was tacky and full of pool parties. Non of us won our millions, non of us got married, one of us got sent their first dick pic (from a man claiming to be in the MBA). Then LA; which was great and sun drenched and full of cute boys on skateboards and delicious food but also pathos as the trip, and our bubble of American freedom, was coming to an end.

 But here we are! Two years later and it is a lone bitch who is tripping this time. While George slaves away in NYC creating plant based fast food magic, I (Laura) have temporality absconded from my East London railway arch for a solo road trip through Italy. The trip actually started a week ago, in Bologna. Initially I had no plans to document it in any particular way, but it turns out that Italian is a pretty difficult language to just jump into speaking, with a very basic working knowledge of French/Spanish hindering rather than helping matters. So with two weeks looming where the extent of my conversations would be limited to ordering wine or apologising for things, I decided maybe an outlet for my repressed internal monologue was a wise move. 


A quick precis of that first week. Two nights in Bologna, immersed in the spirit of Italy’s communist heartland – there is a thriving community of independent businesses made possible through the city’s lingering socialist business policies. The sizeable Antifa student rally I stumbled upon while exploring the city’s many university streets hammered home the underlying spirit of the city. 

My first meal was quite terrifying. I clung to the Italy Food Companion phrasebook my sister had given me for my birthday like my non starvation depended on it, dutifully reading out ‘vorrei una etc etc’ and the patient waiter answering in slowed down nursery grade Italian while I desperately thumbed through the book looking for my next phrase, stubbornly refusing to level myself with the many American tourists around me not even attempting a ‘ciao’. Either my phrasebook Italian wasn’t completely unintelligible, or the waiter helped me out, but the food that arrived was totally perfect. The thinnest, most al dente ravioli, packed with seasoned ricotta and happily drowned in browned butter and sage. Throw in a bread basket the size of my head and a personal bottle of white wine and I found myself coming over all insufferably Julia Roberts a la Eat Pray Love.  


After a long and strenuous planning session (a hasilty written Facebook status) I decided my next stop would be the much Instagrammed Cinque Terre. Comprised of five of the prettiest, least arcitechially feasible looking towns I have ever seen, it really is worth the hype. Two very contentedly sweaty days were spent hiking the trails between Corniglia and Monterosso al Mare. Corniglia is the smallest of the towns (250 residents) and from its position perched high on a cliff top, simply one of the most idyllic places I have ever watched the sun go down. Monterosso is positively metropolitan by contrast; being home to 1500 people. Although it lacks some of Corniglia’s cutesy charm and has a few too many tourists, my lovely hotel  Hotel Marina, serves free pasta and wine every afternoon which is the surest of ways to my heart. 


Once even I reached my limit on 3pm pasta pesto, it was time to wave goodbye to my seaside chocolate box Italian dreamscape, and head south east, to Florence.

Written by Laura.
What I’m saying now.
What I’m seeing now.

Viva Terlingua!

Marfa, Terlingua, Texas

After Austin we had a decision to make. The path to the right led north, to Dallas via the big slide at Waco (seriously, watch the video and tell me that isn’t tempting?). The left path, on the other hand, stretched far far into the West Texan desert.

Fans of Robert Frost that we are, we took the road less travelled by and headed west, to Marfa. Marfa is a well established community of artists who have chosen to remove themselves from the bustle of city life in favour of sweeping views of nothing. We were starving (as usual) when we got to town and couldn’t check into our tent for a few hours, so drove around aimlessly until we happened to stumble upon Capri Kitchen. Tucked away in a gorgeous courtyard, this tiny kitchen was churning out delicious plates for just a few hours every day. We settled on the kale salad – lovingly massaged raw kale with just the right amount of lemon, pecorino and garlic croutons, and fantastically crispy and sweet corn cakes with slow roasted tomatoes. Both plates were practically licked clean.

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Corn cakes with roasted tomatoes and a sauce that was delicious and cheesy but that’s as far as I remember, and raw kale salad, from Capri Kitchen

We were staying in an RV park and campsite called El Cosmico, in possibly the fanciest tent I have ever not had to put up. Marfa’s most famous attraction is actually not in Marfa at all, rather a 45 minute drive away just outside Valentine. Prada Marfa, an art installation disguised as a Prada storefront, was built in 2005. Six days later it was swiftly broken into but, not being a real store, the thieves only made off with 14 right shoes. Now it sits lonely in the desert, gathering cobwebs, feeling like a simultaneous critique and homage to the consumerism it represents.

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Prada, Mustang and George.

Obligatory ‘Mustang in front of fake Prada’ photos taken, we drove back to Marfa to explore the town itself. Honestly after weeks of ever present southern charm, I have to admit that I was slightly underwhelmed by Marfa. It wasn’t so much that people were unfriendly (in fact everyone we met at El Cosmico was utterly lovely), it was more that the locals were quite dismissive. Maybe we were just two more not particularly artistically knowledgable tourists trampling through their town, but we felt the least welcome we had for weeks. We spent a while wandering round town, peering into galleries and looking for somewhere to eat. There were about ten places in the whole town to choose from, all of which seemed to be open for a different two days a week. We eventually stumbled across Cochineal, which our guidebook assured us was shut that day but seemed to have humans inside. They immediately presented us with bowl of homemade hummus which which hummed with delicately balanced spice. George had sushi, which was apparently remarkably delicious, especially considering how far we were from a sea of any variety. I ate a perfectly cooked piece of fish on a bed of mashed sweet potato and asparagus, all drowned in brown butter. After a lovely yet strangely sterile dinner experience, we both wanted a drink. We stumbled across the Lost Horse Saloon; a proper characterful Texan dive. A whiskey and a Lone Star later in the back yard later, staring at the real Texan stars, Marfa made a last minute sprint towards growing on me.

Lost Horse Saloon

The Lost Horse Saloon

As if Marfa wasn’t remote enough, we decided to further continue our retreat from society by venturing south four hours to Terlingua. Just outside the Big Bend national park, basically on the Mexican border, Terlingua was a thriving mining town a hundred years ago. Now the population has shrunk to just 48 at last count, and is largely a ghost town. We were staying in an adobe dome about an hour out of ‘town’. Built by a wonderful human named Trevor, the dome is completely off grid – all of its power is generated daily by solar panels. A solar fridge, rainwater tap, gas stove and composting toilet were all the amenities for miles and it was completely glorious. After stocking up on supplies at the nearest store, Needful Things, a twenty minute drive away, we made a remarkably impressive lunch of fresh corn tacos and with all the fixings. We hadn’t really managed to cook anything since staying with Mary in Atlanta right at the start of the trip, and it felt so good to just sit and eat a simple meal, prepared ourselves, with no one else around instagramming their lunch or stressing over how much to tip the waiter. Right there, in that hut, with nothing but tin shacks and the odd goat for miles around, I finally felt reconnected to food as nothing but fuel and simple pleasure.

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The Dome, Terlingua, TX

The next morning, we woke up at 5am to go climb a mountain, obviously. If we thought navigating the dirt roads to the dome in daylight was tough, then doing it in the pre dawn dark was a different ball game entirely. We eventually found our way to the main road and an hour later, just as the sun started to break over the horizon, we entered the Big Bend national park. As cliched as it is, there are no words to describe quite how breathtaking the mountains were in the early morning light. We were the only ones on the road as it swept through the landscape. We found the trailhead for the Old Mine trail and parked up, noting the bear proof lockers by the side of the road and suddenly wondering if we had bitten of more than we could chew. This feeling was heightened when another pair of walkers turned up in full hiking gear and I looked down at my trainers and the shorts that I’d slept in feeling like the kid who forgot her gym kit. Nevertheless, we set out ahead of the others, purposely striding past the sign warning of recent mountain lion sightings (apparently you should pick up all small children and under no circumstances run away. Seems legit). One brief freak out over potential bear/lion droppings in our path, and a few miles of clambering over rocks later, we broke through the tree line and found ourselves momentarily on top of the world. The sun was still low in the sky and cast long shadows in the valleys below us, only heightening the feeling of being on some sort of Avatar inspired floating mountain. The idea that we were still in the same country as the food trucks of Austin, the cowboy hats of Nashville and New York in all its eccentricities felt mildly ludicrous. And we hadn’t even needed hiking boots to get there.

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The Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend, TX

On the way home, we bathed in some hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande. The surprisingly non Grande river acts as the natural border between Mexico and the US – we could have easily waded over to hang out with the Mexican donkey grazing on the opposite bank. We didn’t though because, you know, US border patrol are terrifying.

That evening we decided to brave the thunder storms gathering on every mountain and head into town for dinner. The Starlight Theatre was our destination; originally an open air movie theatre in the 1930s, it was brought back to life (and given a roof) in 1991. It was everything we could have dreamed of in a Texan saloon bar, from the ageing cowboy with a guitar in the corner singing country songs, to the stuffed goat drinking a beer in the back. Side note – It turns out the stuffed goat was actually the first Mayor of the next-door town. We met his living successor later that night and had the honour of feeding him beer ourselves. Long story.

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The Starlight Theatre, Terlingua, TX

No sooner had we sat down and ordered a beer, two brave young men approached our table and asked if we’d like to dance. The dance floor didn’t look like it had seen any action in quite some time so it seemed rude to refuse. Dancing with Luis and Victor, it emerged they were in Terlingua on the Texan equivalent of a lad’s holiday (Magaluf this was not) and were still in high school! Our food arrived and was surprisingly great; blackened salmon on a bed of greens with a great cucumber dill dressing. A few more beers in (us, not them, drinking laws and all..) and we found ourselves bundling into cars for an after party at their hotel. Just before we left, we asked for the check only to be presented with a note saying that out bill had been taken care of by our new friend Victor! Who could have guessed that the craziest night of our trip wouldn’t be in bars of New Orleans or the Nashville strip but at a golf resort in the West Texan desert?! The whole night was a bit of a blur but definitely featured a meeting with the town mayor (the aforementioned goat), coolers filled with beer, belly flops into the pool, and an eventual visit by the Sheriff to shut the whole thing down (a real human one this time).

The next morning, we reluctantly packed up the car, bid farewell to our dome away from home, and turned north. It felt like we had been in Texas forever yet had barely scratched the surface. We had run out of time though, and New Mexico was calling.

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See ya, Texas


 

Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

Southern style down in New Orleans

New Orleans

One of the things I miss the most about England is the ability to buy a bottle of wine (*cough* Lambrini *cough*) and go drink it in the park like a normal functioning alcoholic. Unfortunately that hasn’t been an option whilst living in the US, so naturally I was enormously excited to be in New Orleans and subject to their more liberal drinking laws.

We arrived after three days of driving from Memphis, which had seen us pass through corn fields, corn fields, civil war sites, and more corn fields. The closest thing to a decent meal we had en route was when we stopped in Clarksdale with the intention of going to Morgan Freeman’s restaurant, only to find it was closed. Two failed attempts at Taco Bell drive thru l later (George’s efforts to order something gluten free and vegan over a crackly speaker had me hiding on the back seat in hysterics), we found ourselves in our motel room with McDonalds and Miller Lite. Truly the closest we have got to the American dream.

Our home in New Orleans was an adorable shotgun house just north of the French Quarter. We dropped our bags and gave Neil a well deserved break from our company by heading to a Barre3 class on Magazine Street; a preemptive strike on the mountains of beignets I was planning on consuming over the coming days. Two hours later we returned home, bearing limes, to start the real purpose of our trip to New Orleans – drinking. Half a bottle of Old Fourth vodka later and dinner thoroughly forgotten, we jumped in an Uber and found ourselves on Bourbon Street. George and I drank Voodoo Daiquiris (an interesting mix of Welch’s grape juice and battery acid, at a guess) while Neil found himself giving a very intense, surprisingly fluent, ten minute lesson to the bartender about the Greek financial crisis. We soon took our drinks to the streets, just because we could, and battled our way down Bourbon Street. The closest thing I can compare the experience to is my formative trip to Magaluf aged 17. But with non ironic cowboy hats. And possibly more vomit (for once, not our’s).

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The face of someone (me) when confronted with Bourbon Street

Bourbon Street crossed off the list, we ducked down a side street and found our way to Frenchman Street instead. I could call Frenchman Street the cooler, less stressful younger brother of Bourbon Street but really its more of a third cousin who denies any relation when asked. We wandered round Frenchman Art Market and ducked into dimly lit bars with live jazz bouncing off the walls. My memories of the evening have a pleasant blur around them so I can’t be sure of the details but I have a feeling we had a lovely time; mainly because Neil’s photos of George and I have the distinct look of a ‘falling in love’ montage.

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The next day, feeling ever so slightly delicate, there was only one thing on my mind. Beignets. Everyone had told us there was only one place to experience these fried French donuts, and that was Café du Monde. Right in the heart of the French Quarter, this New Orleans institution was packed but we found a table and soon were presented with three huge piles of powdered sugar, underneath which were three heart attacks disguised as donuts. When I interned at Anissa in New York I spent night after night dropping miniature beignets and thought I knew what they were, but these were a different level of delicious. Crisp, fluffy, fatty.. They were the hangover food of dreams.

Beignets from Cafe du Monde

Beignets from Cafe du Monde

Seeing as we had drunkenly skipped dinner the night before, that evening we needed some serious Creole soul food. Step forward, Jacques Imo’s. Located uptown on Oak Street, I had been told by a friend that we couldn’t afford to miss their proper N’awlins food and boy was he right. There was an hour’s wait for a table so after a few beers down the road we were ravenous. We were led to our table through the kitchen and I saw chefs pouring tray after tray of what looked like (very out of place) Yorkshire puddings. As soon as we sat down we were presented with what I then realised was some of the most buttery and delicious cornbread I have ever eaten. Continuing my grits tour of the south, I ordered deep fried grits with white corn, crawfish and tasso (a ‘ham’ made from pig’s shoulder).

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Deep fried grits with white corn, crawfish and tasso

Also presented to us were fried shrimp stuffed with crab, crawfish étouffée (meaning ‘to smother’ – basically crawfish smothered in deliciousness and served over rice), whole fried soft-shell crab on a stack of fried green tomatoes and eggplant with crab hollandaise and sides of greens (you know, for health), corn, red beans and slaw. My only regret is that we didn’t order the shrimp and alligator cheesecake, but as a recently fallen vegetarian it was just a leap too far.

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Crawfish étouffée

Softshell crab with fried eggplant, fried green tomatoes and crab hollandaise

Softshell crab with fried eggplant, fried green tomatoes and crab hollandaise

The only downside of this excess of deliciousness was that it rendered us completely incapable of staying awake. We soldiered through and went next door to the Maple Leaf where the Chris Mule Band was playing, but soon I couldn’t tell if I was swaying to the music or my own exhaustion and had to call it a night.

The next morning, George and I played domestic goddesses and made breakfast of garlic kale, avocado and eggs to atone for our indulgences. We then spent the day wandering the swamp in the Barataria Preserve and trying not to think about the fact that Neil was imminently leaving us to return to New York. A useful distraction provide to be the GIANT spiders suspended over ever inch of the path, and the warning signs of a feral pig that had been troubling visitors. Luckily, we survived both porcine and arachnid threats, and made it to Frankie & Johnny’s for the one thing we hadn’t yet eaten; Gumbo. Honestly by this point I couldn’t face one more crawfish so ate sweet potato fries and drank beer while the others worked their way through the bowl. Finally all that was left was all too premature tearful goodbyes at the airport. As Neil vanished though the departure gates George and I got back in the car and set off West, for Texas.

WE'LL MISS YOU NEILY

WE’LL MISS YOU NEILY


Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

A brief walk in Memphis

Memphis

Our first destination post Nashville was Memphis; the land of Elvis, B.B. King and soul food. We only had one night in town and were staying in the Cooper-Young neighbourhood, which it turns out is the area to be in for great restaurants and bars removed from the madness of the Beale Street crowds. After getting settled in our Airbnb (this time a spare room in the home of a wonderful Brazillian woman named Dalila, her sons and their pet Guinea pig and chameleon) we set off in search of dinner.

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Beauty Shop with original sinks that Priscilla Presley may or may not have been permed in (Credit: thebeautyshoprestaurant.com)

We found ourselves at Beauty Shop, formerly Priscilla Presley’s preferred spot for a dye job, now a fantastically kitsch restaurant serving food thats hard to pin down in genre but so so delicious. The whole place is so well designed; from the tables for two where you sit under hooded Belvedere hair dryers not unlike the ones your granny gets her permed under, while larger parties find themselves in booths made of glass bricks, to the original mint green hair washing sinks still in use behind the bar. I had pan roasted barramundi with sweet corn and pea succotash, almonds and a citrus garlic coconut milk broth. Neil had something with duck that looked delicious but I can’t for the life of me remember what was in it. George had a double order of kale salad, because… George. We also had great skinny fries with cayenne, sugar and spring onions. The highlight for me though had to be the avocado and white chocolate ice creams for dessert which went bizarrely well together and balanced out an otherwise worryingly healthy meal.

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Barramundi with corn, peas and citrus coconut broth. Fries with cayenne, sugar and spring onions.

The next day was spent exploring. Beale Street; essentially two miles of blues clubs, restaurants and touristy shops with some major neon sign competition between them. The vintage and antique stores back in Cooper-Young were packed so full of treasures I literally wanted to hire a shipping container and take everything with me. We also spent a truly unhealthy amount of time at the Bass Pro shop – an giant silver pyramid where you can buy anything and everything to make your Duck Dynasty/Bear Grylls (delete as culturally relevant) dreams come true. We were tempted by the adorable pink hand guns and camouflage speed boats, but alas the budget wouldn’t stretch.

“Put some South in your mouth” on Beale Street

It was a flying visit, so fleeting in fact that we didn’t even make it to Graceland, but Memphis will stick in my memory for its undeniable charm, style and soul. We would have loved to stay longer but had plenty of ground to cover before Neil flew out of New Orleans in 5 days so the road was calling..


Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

Oh, Atlanta I hear you calling

Atlanta

By the time we arrived in Atlanta, I had fully crafted a life plan that started with cancelling my flight back to England, moving to Savannah, starting a quaint neighbourhood bistro and never looking back. Suffice to say I hadn’t really thought about what Atlanta would be like at all. Turns out, Atlanta is kind of lovely too.

We were staying with our friend Mary, her lovely parents, and their two miniature schnauzers; Peggy Sue and Bob Dylan. Our first night was a blur of real home comfort. Homemade gluten free sourdough bruschetta inspired by Mary’s recent trip to Italy, deceptively strong thyme infused cocktails and home smoked salmon. It really was a promising start. 

Our first day in Atlanta began with a walk up Stone Mountain. Of course when I say this, I mean George walked while I stumbled and sweated behind her. The view from the top threw me at first in its sheer greenness (is that a word? I’m going with it). If Mary hadn’t insisted that yes, Atlanta was right below us, I wouldn’t have guessed it. Other than the few downtown high-rises in the distance the whole city seemed to be made up of leafy cul-de-sacs and cute suburbs. Having made it off the mountain considerably faster than we climbed it, we decided to reward ourselves with brunch. Side note: Literally any activity completed pre 10am deserves to be rewarded with brunch.

With Mary as our leader, we headed over to DeKalb Avenue and to Radial Cafe. Radial was, in their own words, ‘farm-to-table before farm-to-table was cool’ and their experience shows. They have a huge selection catering to vegans/carnivores and coeliacs/gluten lovers alike. Suitably full of cheese grits, gluten free pancakes and supercharged veggie burgers we passed the afternoon exploring the vintage shops of Peachtree Street and watching more Shark Week than was strictly necessary.

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Sweet potato hash, sunny side egg and ‘more cheese than grits’ grits

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the sharks to check out happy hour at Kimball House and christ am I glad we did. Although it only opened in 2013, Kimball House feels like it has been there forever; helped in no small part by its home in a beautifully restored old railway station. The guys who work there have a positively encyclopaedic knowledge of everything booze which was invaluable to a terminally indecisive yet particular person like myself. I finally settled on a Sunset Boulevard – basically the best boulevardier I have ever had with the addition of rhubarb vermouth, raspberry brandy and citrus bitters. One of the major draws of Kimball House is its raw bar, so I was planning on sitting back and working my way through the cocktail menu while George and Mary ate oysters. After a quick glance over the dinner menu I decided to try their leek hushpuppies while the others sucked on molluscs. Just in the name of research of course. Oh the hushpuppies. Essentially buttery leeky deep fried cornbread, draped with lardo, strips of tart ramps and whipped maple butter. I just had to stop typing for a moment and be sad that I’m not eating it right now. Spurred on by the hushpuppies and (apparently) wonderful oysters, we abandoned plans of leaving, made ourselves comfortable, ordered another round of cocktails and more food.

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Those leek hushpuppies, the Sunset Boulevard and a healthy assortment of oysters

Being in Georgia, of course we had to order the peach salad. Perfectly ripe peaches, arugula (sorry, rocket) pesto, mushroom conserve, pecan oil and lime combined to elevate this simple looking plate of food to extreme levels of deliciousness. The star however was undoubtedly the smoked bass. Nestled on a bed of heirloom tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, charred greens, bamboo, chanterelles and swimming in a pool of smokey corn fumet. It is a testament to the manners of the waiters that they didn’t judge me for licking the plate, because lick the plate I did.

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Smoked striped bass, heirloom tomato, sweet corn, charred greens, bamboo, chanterelles, corn fumet. May I have some more?

Next on the list was Leon’s Full Service. Things start to get a little blurry round the edges at this point but I know we drank delicious Gruner Veltliner and ate devilled eggs (what, thats not what you order when  you’re drunk?) and an actual bucket of fries with smoked tomato aoli. Leon’s is actually owned by the same people at Kimball House and it showed in their immaculate service and attention to detail in the food. Two bottles of wine later it was only a short stagger found the corner to the Brick Store Pub, completing our hatrick of joints owned by the same guys. Upstairs in the Belgian bar Mary and I drank cider while George had a little snooze. It had been a long day after all.

Not wanting to sober up and realise how hungover we were, the next day we went to check out the Old Fourth distillery. The first distillery in Atlanta since before prohibition, the guys at Old Fourth are clearly very passionate about that they do. They run free tours on Thursday afternoons which we gladly jumped on, where you can sample their small batch vodka, whiskey and even their first trial batches of gin. The vodka especially was utterly delicious – so much so that I currently have a bottle of it in the glove compartment of the car to swig when George isn’t entertaining me enough. We actually learned that Kimball House uses their spirits so we knew we were in good hands. The building itself is beautifully designed and clearly a real labour of love, from the copper stills to the salvaged school furniture in the tasting room to the huge collection of pre prohibition stoneware whiskey jugs from previous Atlanta distilleries. Talking to Justin, one of the owners, after the tour it was obvious that they have big plans for the business and really see it as part of the evolving community. I just wish it was round the corner from my house; though my liver is probably glad it isn’t.

It was with real sadness that we left Mary and Atlanta the next morning. Georgia had been an unexpected delight, but Nashville was calling.


Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.

Oh Savannah, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Savannah

The next major stop after Miami was to be Atlanta. Our wonderful friend Mary, who we met at culinary school, lived there and had generously offered to put us up for a few days. It being almost 10 hours of driving between the two cities, the initial plan had been to drive up via Orlando and treat ourselves to a day at Harry Potter world. Three too many extravagant Miami dinners later and $150 each for a ticket, even for the magic of real life Hogsmeade, just wasn’t going to work. Instead, we set about randomly scanning the map for an alternative pit stop. Enter stage left, Savannah.

Airbnb booked, car collected*, snacks sequestered, off we set on the seven hour drive up the Florida coast. I really knew nothing about Savannah, but as we rolled into town that evening the pastel clap board houses and twinkling road side diners were utterly enchanting in the fading light. We were staying on the edge of the historic district in the gorgeous home of Rabo, or Airbnb host. We were starving from a day of enthusiastic car karaoke so Rabo recommended we wander down the street to the Green Truck Pub. It is one of Savannah’s emerging number of restaurants serving seriously tasty, locally sourced, sustainably minded food. We were planning on having a night of drying out after Miami but our willpower crumbled as soon as we saw the beer list. Demonstrating our usual talent for over ordering, we were soon presented with perfect hand cut fries, a shimmering bowl of chilli non carne, coleslaw and a gorgonzola apple salad studded with candied pecans so good I could have wept. Even the ketchup was homemade. I don’t know if it was the first taste of Southern charm, the perfect understated attention to detail in the food, or the 9% abv beer, but the whole meal felt infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Intentions of sobriety already shot, next we headed over to the American Legion bar; apparently the cheapest place to drink in Savannah and home to a bouncer who was utterly baffled to be presented with a UK passport as ID. After having every credit card in my wallet inspected, we passed a happy hour (or was it three?) surrounded by an eclectic mix of SCAD students and very drunk veterans. Sinking into bed later that night, I couldn’t help but feel like I was home.

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The next day, breakfast was at The Sentient Bean; a great neighbourhood vegetarian cafe with even more of the welcoming energy we were getting so used to. Mystery chef’s choice tacos, vegan grain bowl and iced yerba maté dealt with, we headed through Forsyth Park and spent the rest of the day strolling around town oohing and ahhing like kids at a firework display at quite how beautiful Savannah is. I can’t put my finger on what it is that makes the place so special; the whole city seems to be conspiring together to charm you into never wanting to leave.

The oldest city in Georgia, Savannah was originally the British colonial capital which might go some way to explaining the deep sense of familiarity and homecoming I felt by being there. It’s also ridiculously cheap to live in. When I found out you could rent the entire the five bedroom, four bathroom, stained glass window containing house we were staying in for the same money as my room in Brooklyn I may have sworn quite loudly. This means that all sorts of creative types who are being priced out of Portland, Austin and even New York are seeing Savannah as an increasingly attractive place to run to, and in turn they are turning it into a growing hub for the creative arts in the South.

As we pulled out of town, Atlanta bound, it was with a surprisingly strong sense of sadness. So long Savannah. I won’t leave it another 23 years until I return, I promise.

* Side note on the car – We had reserved a VW Beetle for the journey (you know, those cars famed for their endurance through long stretches of Texan desert) but due for a fortuitous fuck up at the rental company they had no cars for us and were forced to give us a convertible Mustang instead. Sometimes life just hands you a glass of iced lemonade straight off the bat.


Written by Laura.

What I’m saying now.

What I’m seeing now.