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Travel/ Wanderings

Explorations: Mont Saint-Michel

December 7, 2019
Mont saint-Michel France explorations

An ancient castle, perched on top of a rocky island surrounded on all sides by the sea — sounds like a fairy tale, right? And really, Mont Saint-Michel is a bit like something out of a fairytale. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go Google Mont Saint-Michel — I’ll wait. Stunning, isn’t it? I took a day trip from Paris, and I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.

Located in northern France where Normandy and Brittany meet, this ancient island settlement dates back over a thousand years. As the story goes, the Archangel Michael told Aubert, bishop of nearby Avranches, to build a church on the island in 709. A community of Benedictines settled on the mont in 966, and the Romanesque abbey church and first monastery buildings were built in the 11th century. In the following centuries, the spot became a great spiritual and intellectual center and a major pilgrimage site. The monastery and surrounding town were built up throughout medieval times, including protective ramparts added during the Hundred Years War. It was even used as a prison during the French Revolution! Today, the monastery is once again a working religious community, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site that welcomes over 2.5 million visitors a year.

The Village

As you might have guessed, the only caveat is that by these days, this site is a big tourist attraction. That said, it’s still spectacular, and I would highly recommend it. I went in the off-season — in October — and while it was definitely full of tourists, it wasn’t nearly as packed as it would have been in the summer (though prepare for rain if you’re there in the fall). In any case, the crowds really didn’t dim the magic of the place. The trick is to get off the beaten path of the little town (after you’ve grabbed your crepe and souvenirs) and up into the winding paths of the upper town and monastery. The village is mostly one narrow cobbled path lined with bustling souvenir shops and restaurants — like something straight out of Harry Potter (think Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley). All around this area, quaint little homes and hotels perch on the hillside, all the way up toward the monastery at the top.

But as charming as the town is, the real magic is in the narrow cobbled paths that snake up the cliffside toward the monastery. Pick a path and start exploring — I can guarantee you’ll get lost, but that’s the fun of it. Wander past charming little homes with colorful shutters, peek into an ancient graveyard, say hello to a meandering cat, and the next thing you know, you’ll be standing on top of ramparts looking out over the steely grey ocean. It’s a maze of unexpected discoveries, and while you’re likely to bump into fellow explorers, the entire area is surprisingly peaceful.

The Monastery

Once you’ve gotten your fill of wandering, climb to the monastery at the very top of the island (you’re likely to end up there anyway if you keep heading upward). Honestly, I almost skipped this part, reluctant to pay extra to get in. Luckily, I went for it anyway — don’t miss this. Yes, I have a penchant for turning everything into a Harry Potter reference, but I promise, this looks just like Hogwarts. You wander through a maze of vaulted stone ceilings, spooky corridors, and a stunning church, all nearly a thousand years old (some of it older). Even with other tourists around, the entire place is hushed and almost haunted, like stepping back into history. You half expect a monk to amble past or a medieval knight to be waiting in the knight’s hall. At the end, you emerge from the dim corridors onto a platform overlooking all of the village and surround ocean — the highest point visitors are allowed to go — with only the bell tower looming above you. It really was spectacular, and definitely worth the 10 euros to get into the monastery.

If you’re feeling adventurous on the way out, you can actually venture out into the ocean at low tide. The entire mont is surrounded by a flat plain of grey muddy sand at low tide that you can wander across. In all honesty, this was a little too messy (and cold) for me, but many people were pulling off their shoes and doing it when I was there. I’m not sure how high the water rises at high tide, so it’s worth checking the tide times before heading out, but if climbing the mont doesn’t quite satisfy your adventurous streak, it’s definitely worth a try. Just only go if you don’t mind getting a bit muddy!

How to Get There

In the art of full disclosure, I should mention that this journey wasn’t what I would call stress-free (in my experience, at least). The trip itself isn’t complicated, but in my experience French train and bus stations aren’t always the most clearly marked. I certainly wouldn’t consider this a reason to forgo this trip, but I would recommend giving yourself plenty of extra time and not being afraid to ask for help (even if your French isn’t perfect).

As for the nitty-gritty details, the trip is about three to four hours (depending on your connections) each way from Paris by train and bus. There’s no train station actually in Mont Saint-Michel, so the last leg of the trip will be a bus ride. Visit raileurope.com and search for tickets from Paris to Mont St.-Michel. There are usually several time options and various price options — most tickets are around 70-100 euros round-trip. I left from Paris Gare Montparnasse in the morning, took a shuttle bus, a train, and another bus to get to Mont Saint-Michel around noon for 78 euros (obviously, the more flexible you are with times and the more you’re willing to pay, the better connections you can get). Both the buses and trains are actually quite comfortable, and the trip isn’t difficult. Again, I would just recommend you give yourself plenty of time, especially if you’re leaving from a major Paris train station.

Once you get to Mont Saint-Michel, you can either take a shuttle or walk the 30-minutes or so on the bridge out to the island. Remember that the buses out of Mont Saint-Michel leave from where they drop you off, so pay attention to where you are when you arrive and leave plenty of time to get back to the bus stop from the mont (I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything here…).

For more info, check out the Normandy tourism website.

 

Musings/ Travel/ Wanderings

Wandering the Doors of Paris

December 5, 2019
Paris doors

I have a confession: I have a bit of an obsession with doors. Not your average everyday door necessarily, but colorful doors, intricate doors, eccentric doors. Have you ever noticed how many different types of doors there are out there? (No? Just me?) And it just so happens that Paris is particularly up on its door game. There’s a vast array of colors. There are intricate designs and incredible art. There are knockers in every design imaginable (Paris also has — pardon my French — great knockers). Some are ancient and a little worn, some are polished and shiny new, some are amazing Art Nouveau works of art — you get the picture. As a result, I became that crazy tourist stopping every few steps to take a picture of yet another door. What can I say? I’m obsessed.

 

I don’t actually know the stories of these Paris doors, which in a way maybe makes it more fascinating. How old is the door? What lies behind it? Who chose that lion or hand door knocker, and why? I’ve heard enough histories of specific doors and buildings in France to know that every flourish has a history and a meaning.

 

The one I do have some context for is the stunning Art Nouveau creation at 29 Avenue Rapp (first image, third row, first from left). Built in 1901 and designed by Jules Lavirotte, this intricate doorway tells an erotic tale of Adam and Eve, including peacocks, bulls, reptiles, and insects symbolizing sin (not to mention several other erotic motifs). It’s a gorgeous building teeming with symbolism that shocked viewers of the time.

 

Likely not every door in Paris packs such a metaphoric punch, but I’m positive they all have their own tales. Unfortunately, I’m no tour guide. I wish I could write an entire post about the stories behind these doors, but most remained closed to me. So we’ll just have to imagine, create histories and characters for them. All I know is, I took pictures of 39 doors in Paris, and no two looked alike, and I wandered by many more that I forced myself to keep walking and not snap a photo of.

 

If you’re wondering, “Why is she still talking about doors?” — well, I’m surprised you made it this far. If, like me, you enjoy a little quirkiness and mystery, then take a look at the collage of all my Paris door photos, enjoy the art and color, and create your own version of the stories they tell. And I’m positive they have many — it is Paris, after all.

Paris doors

Food/ Travel

The Macaron Quest, Part II: Paris

November 13, 2019

I promised a part II to the macaron quest, didn’t I? Well, here you are. I recently wandered over to the Mecca of macarons — Paris — and of course I had to test as many as possible to get a true scientific sampling of the macaron measure. Ok, in truth I went a little macaron crazy (can you blame me?). Macarons can be found in every corner boulangerie and candy shop in Paris, so I chose eight spots — mostly well-known patisseries — to see what a true French macaron tastes like and how KC’s offerings stack up.

Before I get into the nitty gritty (sugary) details, let’s summarize the overall Paris macaron scene. First of all, crazy flavors are definitely not traditional. The bigger-name (and more touristy) brands are starting to do all sorts of funky flavor combinations, but in general the classic macaron flavors (and the ones you’ll find almost everywhere) are vanilla, coffee, pistachio, chocolate, raspberry, and lemon. Second, as I mentioned, almost every boulangerie/patisserie has at least a few macarons. For the most part, I went for places that are pretty well-known and easy to find. (Most of these places have multiple locations around Paris; for those that have only one location, I included the address below.) The most well-known macaron purveyors in Paris are probably Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, which of course I had to visit. So without further ado, let the macaron quest: Paris begin!

Pierre Hermé

Talk about a smorgasbord of flavors! I spent a good amount of time here just staring, saucer-eyed, trying to decide which to choose. Pierre Hermé is an iconic patisserie, especially for macarons, so it’s hardly a surprise that the offerings were overwhelming and the place packed. I ended up with the Barbade (chocolate, vanilla, and tonka bean) and hazelnut praline flavors — see what I mean about funky flavors? Though definitely not traditional, the flavors here were unusual and delicious (hazelnut praline was my favorite). The macaron itself was very delicate, though almost too moist, not lightly crispy as I would have hoped. Still, there’s definitely a reason this place is famous.

Ladurée

Fairytale mint green shop, rows of delicate jewel-toned sweets, a cozy tearoom — what’s not to love? Ladurée is possibly the most hyped of all the macaron wizards (in fact, there are several in the US now as well). Despite this, I have to admit I think Ladurée lives up to its reputation. The hordes of tourists are a bit of a turnoff (for me, at least), but if you avoid the Champs-Elysées shop, this is less of an issue. I made multiple stops here, in fact, testing the caramel fleur de sel, pistachio, and chocolate hazelnut flavors. With a strong flavor, smooth and delicate cookie, and slightly chewy inside, these macarons are just as scrumptious as they’re proclaimed to be. On top of that, they nicely bridge traditional and inventive — there are a few maverick flavors, but nothing so outlandish that you forget you’re eating a classic macaron.

Stohrer

With a history stretching all the way back to 1730, this family-owned patisserie definitely knows its sweets (in fact, they claim to be the oldest patisserie in Paris). Unlike some of the other big-name shops on this list, Stohrer veers more toward the classic, with traditional flavors like vanilla and chocolate (I tried the coffee one). While not as inventive as Pierre Hermé, the texture of Stohrer’s macarons definitely takes the cake (er, cookie). Lightly crispy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside, and perfectly delicate, it was an ideal macaron creation. The flavor was simple and delicious — not knock-your-socks-off scrumptious. If you’re looking for a classic and tasty macaron, Stohrer is the spot for you.

Jean-Paul Hévin

Famed chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin falls into the same school as Pierre Hermé — ah, the flavor kaleidoscope! That said, the flavor offerings were as good as (if not better than) PH, which is saying something. Though not exactly traditional, I have to admit I loved the flavors here. I tested Pistachin’ (chocolate/pistachio), Normandy (chocolate/salted caramel), and Crème Brûlée, all of which were delicious. My only complaint is that there was almost too much filling — a lot going on in general, with all the flavor combos. Definitely not a purist’s macaron, but still one to remember.

Gwen Choc Boulangerie

5 rue du Temple

For an unintentional macaron testing (I stopped into this Marais boulangerie for a croissant), Gwen Choc held up against the competition. The hazelnut praline macaron was a little crunchier, with more filling than many offerings, but it was still delicate, and the chocolate/hazelnut taste was delicious. This isn’t one of the famed macaron purveyors you’ll hear whenever someone says “macaron,” but if you’re in the Marais, it’s definitely worth a stop (the almond croissants are excellent also).

Le Valentin Teahouse

35 Galerie Vivienne

Tucked into one of Paris’s nineteenth-century covered shopping arcades, this little teahouse was a welcome respite on a drizzly day. With a mouthwatering selection of pastries and confections, I had to use great self-control to get only a macaron. I chose one of my favorites, salted caramel. The macaron was nicely delicate and melt-in-your-mouth, though I couldn’t really taste a specific flavor. Overall, a good texture, and definitely tasty, but nothing to knock your socks off.

Eric Kayser

The US has burger and coffee chains — France has boulangerie chains. Go figure. You can find an Eric Kayser on almost every corner in Paris. When it comes to chains, though, this one is actually pretty reliable. The flavors of my bourbon vanilla and pistachio macarons were very good — you could actually taste the vanilla and pistachio — though the cookie was a little too crunchy (ie, makes a sound when you bite into it) and not super delicate. They certainly aren’t known for their macarons, but for a sampling of a more generic, mass-produced macaron, they’re not a bad option.

Maison Landemaine

Another decent chain option, Maison Landemaine can be found all around Paris. I had a whole sampling here, because they only came in a box set of four (whoops). The flavors were traditional — chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, and caramel — and tasty, nicely crispy and with authentic flavor, but they weren’t necessarily anything to write home about (even though I sort of am).

In the end, any of these will satisfy a macaron craving in Paris, though some are more worthy of a macaron quest than others. But the big question: how does KC’s macaron scene measure up? I’m certainly no expert, but I’d say pretty well. They aren’t as ubiquitous in KC as in Paris, but those who love them seem to know how to do them well. KC may not exactly play by all the rules of traditional macaron flavors, but then, neither do all the Parisian macaron makers! Good news, then: you don’t have to fly across the pond to find a tasty macaron (though I’d highly recommend it anyway).

And the final word on the Paris macaron quest (according to me, anyway):

Best flavors: Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin

Best texture: Stohrer, Ladurée

Best overall: Ladurée

Anyone else craving a sweet treat now? Check out these KC macaron artists to satisfy your sweet tooth! Bon appétit!

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffeeshop Love: Nomads Coffee & Cocktails

September 20, 2019
nomads coffee kansas city

In my mind, anything that mentions travel, exploration, and/or wandering (obviously) is immediately worth an investigation. A tribute to explorers — literary and literal — worldwide, Nomads Coffee in Kansas City exactly fits that bill. It would be easy to walk straight past it, nestled in a subtle brick shopfront on eclectic 39th Street. It certainly isn’t the most colorful or eye-catching spot on the street. But that would be your loss. This charming café has become my go-to coffeeshop work spot, and it’s safe to say I’m a little obsessed.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Bar interior

To fully capture the atmosphere of Nomads Coffee, it’s really best to imagine yourself as a slightly disaffected nineteenth-century writer or a gruff world traveler (or at least following in the footsteps of one). The entire café is a bit dim, with dark wood floors and furniture and deep blue walls. Sophisticated, in an ever-so-slightly gloomy way. Take a spot at the dark-wood bar, curl up in a cushy armchair, or pick an intimate café table and get settled in. My spot of choice is at the bar along the front windows, with a perfect view out onto the goings-on of quirky 39th Street.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee bar interior

To complete the travel theme, shelves throughout the café are stocked with books with a global explorer bent (think Jack London, vintage travel memoirs, old issues of National Geographic). The walls are lined with photos of Alaskan dog races, mountain explorations, maps, suitably gruff explorers, and people and places around the globe.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Interior

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Bar photo wall

It’s the type of place where you might expect to come across a grumpy older Hemingway ordering a cocktail or a grizzled old explorer recounting tales of his latest expedition into the jungle or Arabian deserts (though in reality the clientele is more on the young and hip side, thanks to students from the nearby KU Med Center and the vibrant culture of 39th Street).

All that said, in reality the café isn’t at all gloomy. Despite the somber (if charming) aura, the staff and customers are always friendly, and the café is usually bustling, classic and peppy oldies tunes playing in the background. (Just absorb the old-world vibes and be glad no one there actually acts like a grumpy old mountain man).

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Cocktails

No literary or global enclave would be complete without drinks, of course! The coffee menu here is classic — none of that foufy frappuccino business — but the lattes are delicious. Plus, there’s also a full cocktail/beer/wine menu (this is an extra plus in my book because it means they’re open late, unlike many coffee shops). If you’re feeling peaky, they have a tasty selection of pastries and cookies, plus quiche, classic and hearty sandwiches, and breakfast burritos. Café fare, but the type you actually want to eat.

Full disclosure: I only tested the ham and cheese croissant, but it was scrumptious — buttery and perfectly flaky, with a subtle spike of Dijon mustard inside — and the rest of the menu looks quite tasty. The quiche is definitely next on my list!

So the next time you’re around 39th Street, wander over to Nomads Coffee for a coffee or cocktail — who knows, maybe you’ll actually run into that rugged world explorer I keep expecting to see.

 

Kansas City/ Wanderings

Kansas City Mural Madness

September 12, 2019
Kansas City murals street art Mural

When you think of city street art, Kansas City may not immediately spring to mind. But it turns out KC is a veritable canvas of murals. A mural tour has been on my bucket list for a while, but it was only recently that my friend Emily (shoutout to my always-game wandering buddy!) and I found a free — and not 100-degree — day to do it. And we had to do it right, obviously — full mural madness. Electric scooters required.

Actually, Kansas City has way more murals than I expected, and we didn’t nearly make it to all of them. However, I think we made the rounds pretty well, and the results were pretty darn cool in any case. Follow along with us!

Generally, maps are a no-no for legit wandering. However, Kansas City is a spread-out city, and I love a good list, so I had a detailed list and corresponding map for our mural tour. Obviously, you can follow whatever path you want to see any (or all) of these. Our escapade started in River Market, then went down to East Crossroads, plus a few extra in the Crossroads, Brookside, and even Independence. And, of course, we stumbled across at least a few unexpected gems. As with any wander, the best discoveries are always the ones you find by accident.

*A full list of the Kansas City murals we visited, with addresses, will be at the end of this post.

River Market

Our first stop was the kooky and colorful Betty Rae’s Ice Cream mural. This was by far the hardest to get pictures of, as there was the usual crazy line of people bursting out of Betty Rae’s. That said, the vibrant, cartoonish ice cream drippings are definitely worth a look. And hey, you can always stop for a cone while you’re at it!

After that, we headed on to the Lewis & Clark mural around the corner at River Market Antiques. As far as I know, this is one of the older murals in KC, and it doesn’t have the graffiti vibe of a lot of spots on our list — it’s more like a classic painting. It fits in perfectly with the storied brick buildings of River Market, a little slice of Missouri history.

Kansas City murals street art River Market Lewis Clark

East Crossroads

At this point, we hit the scooters — mostly, in truth, to get to our chosen coffee spot before closing time. A separate Coffeeshop Love post will be coming on that, but suffice it to say, we made it, and the coffee at Thou Mayest’s newest home, Thee Outpost, is not to be missed (also shoutout to the friendly barista who didn’t even give us an evil eye for coming in two minutes before closing). If you haven’t given the electric scooters many cities now have a try, do it — now. I’m not sure I’d use them for a regular commute, but they’re a fun and speedy way to get around, and worth it for the nostalgia trip back to fifth grade alone (I suddenly wish I hadn’t sold my electric scooter…)

East Crossroads might just be the Mecca of murals in KC. The grittier sister of the Crossroads Arts District around 19th and Main, this neighborhood has true street art — and it’s everywhere. We hit a few preplanned spots (I’ll list the addresses), but my best advice is to go to about 18th and Oak and start wandering. From Art Alley (a long passage covered street to roof in graffiti and murals) to a Kansas City Royals wall, there’s a splash of paint around almost every corner. Just be sure you don’t miss the vibrant Production Wall, in the Made in KC lot, and eclectic Art Alley, between 17th and 18th around Locust and Cherry Streets. Meander around east of Oak Street from about 17th to 19th, and you never know what you’ll stumble across.

 

Crossroads and Beyond

Fully caffeinated and a little high on art, we headed west to the Crossroads. Just past the Kansas City Star building, the lovely rainbow of the “Love You Like A Summer Night” mural hides behind Messenger Coffee (also a good stop if you’re not already java-ed out). Then on to Main Street, to Tom’s Town Distillery and Gallup Maps for a little Art Deco and antique flair, respectively.

We couldn’t pass by the Strong Women Empower mural, of course (cheesy selfies are a must). For those who know the area, this spot, across from Up Down bar, used to house the Kansas City I’m So In Love mural. Never fear — that classic has been relocated. We hit it next, incorporated into the Imagine That art at Imagine That (a lovely tribute to this arts organization for developmentally disabled adults). Along the way, we stumbled across the KC skyline splashed across the Spira Care building, another beautiful surprise. You see why I wander?

Full disclosure: I cheated a bit on the Damn Fine and Love the Square murals —  I had already visited and snapped pics of those, so I included them for good measure. Maybe a little outside the downtown mural tour track, but they were too good to not throw into the mix!

Obviously, this was a whirlwind tour! To do the art full justice, you’ll really have to go take a look yourself. And while you’re at it, you’ll probably discover even more we didn’t hit. Check out SpraySeeMo and @grafittikc for more Kansas City mural moments (plus more detailed info).

**If you want to follow our tour, here’s a list of the murals we visited and their locations. I included the artist when I could find it. Most titles, however, are just my own descriptions.**

Betty Rae’s (412 Delaware St.) @jtdaniels_art

Lewis & Clark (115 W 5th St.)

Production Wall/Made in KC lot (18th & Locust St.)

Art Alley (between 17th & 18th, near Locust & Cherry Sts.)

Rainbow Faces (1822 Cherry St.) @rifrafgiraffe

Ten Hundred (19th & Cherry St.) @tenhun

Until the Rave Summons (around 17th & Locust St.)

Retro Noir (501 E. 17th St.) @sikestyle & @lucidflows

Revilo Octopus Panda (500 E. 18th St.) *This building is unfortunately now partially collapsed*

Vulpes Bastille Fox (1737 Locust St.) @sabertooththomas

Sebastian Coolidge Woman (1608 Locust St.) @sebastiancoolidge

Tropical Starry Night (17th & Oak) @pyramidguy

Pyramid Girl (446 E. 17th) @tylercoey

I Love You Like a Summer Night (1624 Grand Blvd) @abbyyemm

Tom’s Town (17th & Main St.)

Gallup Maps (1733 Main St)

Strong Women Empower (1919 Baltimore)

Spira Care KC skyline (1916 Grand Blvd) @rifrafgiraffe & @amiayars

Imagine That (200 E 20th St)

Independence Love the Square

Damn Fine (Brookside)

 

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffeeshop Love: Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City

September 1, 2019
Can someone please tell me where the summer went? Scratch that, where the year went? Seriously, I swear it was just January and I was cheering when the temp hit double digits (now I’m just praying it doesn’t hit triple digits). I don’t know about you, but I’m now counting down the days until fall. Crisp air, colorful leaves, Halloween ghoulies? Bring it on. That said, summer is a time of exploration. Granted, any time is an opportunity for exploration in my opinion, but there’s something particularly carefree and wanderlust-filled about summer. I’ve been neglecting my Kansas City coffee expedition a bit, and I needed an excuse again to wander and think/write/drink coffee 24/7 — or at least justify the amount of my budget spent on coffee by saying it’s blog research. So I decided to make up for lost (java) time. This weekend, that meant a little jaunt over to Liberty, Missouri, to check out Hammerhand Coffee. To be fair, at only 25 minutes from downtown KC, Liberty hardly qualifies as a road trip, but I’m fairly clueless when it comes to north of the city, so it felt like an expedition. Particularly when you factor in that I spent the first hour there hunting down a police station, who called a tow company, who battled my stubborn car locks, because I locked my keys, purse, and phone in my car … but that’s another story.
Ok, on to the important stuff. In case you’re (shockingly) unfamiliar with the small towns of Missouri, Liberty is a historic frontier town just northeast of Kansas City, founded in 1822, and now home to William Jewell College. Think stately brick campus, rambling old Victorian homes, and an abundance of kitschy yet charming shops.
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty cafe interior
Hammerhand is right in the historic town square, across from the Art Deco county courthouse and surrounded by quaint circa-late-1800s storefronts. Considering all this, it’s surprisingly hip and modern, the type of cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn hipsterland. Housed in a narrow turn-of-the-century brick building, the grand wooden staircase, stained glass window accents, and iron fire escape give it an old-world vibe. Yet the decor is crisp, modern, and colorful — mid-century style furniture, bright white walls, succulents, faux vintage lightbulbs, turquoise touches. In a whimsical nod, there’s even a Chemex with a live beta fish swimming around. It feels like a cross between a homey neighborhood joint and a student study crashpad, with both lively chattering groups and tables covered in notebooks and laptops. Liberty doesn’t feel like a college town, but almost everyone there looked to be under 25, so I would guess the students, as usual, gravitate toward the caffeine sources.
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty cozy interior
In the art of full disclosure, the coffee had a slightly odd taste. Not bad, just different. I realized, though, that I haven’t actually had regular milk for quite some time (they ran out of almond), so that might have just been me. That being said, my latte was rich and smooth, and they nailed the latte art (yes, it matters!). The rest of the menu features the standard drip, cappuccinos, cold brew, etc., plus seasonal drinks, housemade syrups, and a selection of pastries. About your usual coffeehouse fare, though it all looked scrumptious. They supposedly also carry a rotating selection of beer and wine, though I didn’t see any sign of that (to be fair, it was also a Sunday afternoon).
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty latte art
Overall, the chances of most people just passing through Liberty, MO, is about zip, and most large cities probably have dozens of Hammerhand-esque java joints. That said, it has a certain flair, with its 19th-century-frontier/hipster mélange, and the coffee is pretty damn good. If you happen to be in the KC area, it’s definitely worth a stop.
**This post was originally published in August 2018 on beanopiablog.com.**
Musings/ Travel

Wandering Solo: 6 Key Tips for Traveling Alone

July 24, 2019
Bird’s eye view of old Prague

The sky was nestling into velvety sapphire, the sun slipping behind rolling hills, and the red tile roofs stretched out like a doll village below. The bell tower was silent and empty around me.

Being alone gets a bad rap sometimes. Indisputably, we all need those close, two-peas-in-a-pod friends. But going solo can be an amazingly enlightening and strengthening experience. I remember a time when I would skip an event I really wanted to check out if I couldn’t find a wingman (or wingwoman). The idea of venturing around Eastern Europe alone initially seemed at best a pipe dream, at worst just plain stupid. Yet it was also a fleeting chance: recently graduated, “real life” waiting on the horizon — when else would I be able to tackle my bucket list head-on, on my own terms? As I booked a flight to Berlin, for once I didn’t allow any overanalyzing or second-guessing. Unsurprisingly, it was an incredible three weeks. It was also a series of ups and downs, but taking the plunge and doing it on my own left me with a few insights.

You’re tougher than you think.

The minute you’re lugging a suitcase alone across a cavernous Hungarian train station, or faced with a dinner menu that might as well be written in astrophysics equations, traveling solo begins to seem like a questionable idea. There’s no one to follow, no one else to bravely ask a stranger for help, no one to chuckle ruefully with over your hopeless sense of direction. But you figure it out. You stumble a bit, bruise your pride, waste some time, but you get where you’re trying to go, find something edible to order, and often stumble across something incredible in the meantime. And when you do, a delicious satisfaction arises in knowing you had the guts and smarts to figure it out on your own.

You will get lonely (and that’s ok).

As much as I loved being on my own, there were moments when something reminded me of home or a friend, and I suddenly felt a million miles away, stranded in Timbuktu. No matter how many awesome people you meet or amazing places you visit, at some point a familiar face would be a welcome sight. But feeling lonely doesn’t mean you’re any less self-sufficient or strong. It’s all about finding the things that make you happy, not being afraid to enjoy them, and knowing when to put FaceTime to good use.

It’s the unexpected moments that mean the most.

I’m a planner. And traveling alone, it seemed like a good idea to be prepared. But some days, like my first in Prague, I just picked a direction and started walking. Here’s the thing about Prague: all the streets resemble the twisting cobblestone paths found in fairy tales. One minute you’re passing a tourist-packed bakery, and the next you’re in a misty forest scaling steep stone and dirt steps (or does that only happen to me?). You somehow end up at a hilltop observation tower, and then all of Prague is magically laid out below you. With no one to plan with, it’s easier to simply wander (and get lost) by your own whim, and there’s something sweet about not having to share that discovery moment.

The best encounters are the random ones.

Random encounters occur, well, randomly (shocker), whether you’re alone or with a friend. But when there’s no one with you to puzzle over nonsensical train schedules or exclaim at stunning views, you’re more likely to strike up a conversation with whoever is nearby, however random that might be. I probably would have whispered to my companion over the doodads in a Prague antiques shop instead of chatting with the banged-up shopkeeper about the perils of biking home from the pub (take his bandaged arm as a lesson, folks). Or missed bashing the Hungarian train system with two British guys as we sat in the luggage compartment on a train with fewer seats than passengers. Obviously this calls for common sense, but it’s also an opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people in the world (literally).

It’s about finding the place that clicks.

For each city I visited, there was that neighborhood or café where everything slid into place and I felt like I belonged, like that was my place. From the funky hipster markets of Berlin’s Kreuzberg to the vibrantly graffitied, café-lined Jewish quarter of Budapest, I only had to set foot there to feel more content. That discovery of the spot where I feel more like a local than a tourist is one of the best parts of traveling in my book, and wandering the city streets on my own left my way open to find it.

It’s ok to be selfish sometimes.

Let’s be real here: part of the reason I wanted to travel alone is so I could go wherever and do whatever I wanted. Maybe that’s a bit selfish and inflexible. But we have a right to follow our own hearts and guts sometimes, to do something completely our own way. To do something just because we want to. Pure and simple. There’s plenty of time for obligations and compromises. I wouldn’t have had the same experience, discovered the same wonders, had the same insights about myself, if I had been traveling with someone else. It’s like that double chocolate cookie you know you want — we all deserve a little self-indulgence every once in a while, right?