“This marriage will be off to a terrible start if you run over a sheep! SLOW DOWN!”
Uneasy in my left-sided passenger seat, I covered my eyes and yelped while Ryan whipped our tiny car around another sharp turn on the impossibly narrow road. A road lined with cute, but precariously close sheep. So many sheep.
Ryan laughed and reminded me that the speedometer was in kilometers, not miles, and that we were far below the speed limit.
He casually added, “Don’t worry, the sheep are just grazing and they know not to cross the road.” A comment I found suspect, because how did he know about sheep and their sense of boundaries?
I let it go, relaxed back into my seat, and centered my gaze out the window at the far expanse of Connemara.
A feeling of sacred awe took over. Dark mounds of limestone, a misty mix of sky and sea, juxtaposed against the neon green lush. This Irish landscape sidestepped my expectations and offered more heart wrenching beauty than I could process calmly. A beauty similar, I would come to understand, as traditional Celtic music: a mix of stark loveliness and ancient sadness. Butterflies hummed in my stomach as we drove through the mysterious green giant.
Our road trip through Ireland was the final leg of our three-week honeymoon last June. Our itinerary of Denmark, Italy, and Ireland was a practice in compromise. I was drawn to visions of Tuscan hills and fresh pasta, and Ireland had always been on Ryan’s bucket list. We threw Copenhagen into the mix as a wild card, knowing very little about the city, when a cheap plane ticket presented itself.
Traveler’s Joy was a game-changer for us. We initially uploaded a traditional registry to our wedding website: a few kitchen and domestic items to help us begin our attempt at “adulting for real”. Our list was a bit sparse since we didn’t feel inclined to register for a lot of expensive things we knew we’d never use. Plus, I have a deep fear of clutter. Those shows about hoarders make my hands sweat.
A couple of weeks after we uploaded our wedding website, my mom called to dutifully tell me that our registry was lame. “Everyone is at a loss,” she lamented. “All the good stuff is already taken. Margaret told me to tell you that she will absolutely not buy you two hand towels and a garlic peeler. Add more stuff or people will just resort to giving cash.” I told her that cash would be really great. She pretended not to hear that comment.
Ryan and I reluctantly returned to the store, picked up our scanner-thing, and after much perusing of aisles and much consideration, we registered for one, lone milk frother. (A delightful little machine, thanks Linda, we love it!) On our walk back to the car, Ryan asked, “What about a registry for our honeymoon?” I only wish we had thought of it sooner.
As we went about customizing our Traveler’s Joy page, we kept muttering things under our breath, like, “ok, this is brilliant.” “Thank God we found this.” To our surprise, unlike our previous registry, this was not a mind-numbing chore. Sometimes we picked ready-made activities recommended by Traveler’s Joy for our destinations.
We also made up our own fundable excursions and accommodations. “A dinner under the stars on an organic farm in Tuscany!” “A pub crawl in Galway!” Our excitement about our honeymoon grew because with the help of Traveler’s Joy, we could broaden the scope and whimsy of our trip, previously limited by our budget. Our friends and family seemed genuinely excited to gift us adventures.
A week after our sunny May wedding in Santa Fe, we arrived outside the Copenhagen metro with our towering backpacks and a dubious sense of direction. We didn’t have Internet connection yet, so we had to do old-school things. Namely, pretend to stare at the physical map in our guidebook while we searched our peripherals for approachable passerby to ask for help.
This initial disorientation was part of the fun and we had a few welcoming conversations with kind locals. Our first misguided turns led us to stumble upon adorable coffee shops and hip juicing bars along the way. We were sufficiently caffeinated and had exceeded our recommended daily intake of kale before we even arrived at our Airbnb.
Our studio apartment was right in the heart of the city, nestled in a small alley off the always-bustling Stroget Street. White washed brick walls, modern furniture, tall ceilings and huge windows that flushed the space with bright white light: the perfect haven to rest our feet after full days of exploration. Our feet really did need rest, considering that the health-tracking App on my phone alerted me that we were walking an average of eleven miles every day! Early every morning, we visited the nearby coffee shop, Højbro Plad, and then walked wherever our curiosity beckoned us.
We discovered Torvehallerne, a modern marketplace, which was filled with food vendors flaunting mouthwatering displays of diverse cuisines. We strolled through Kings Garden, a park where locals convened to picnic, play games, and lounge. We wandered into the Meat Packing District; a creative cluster of cool restaurants, shops, and galleries. We became immersed in the Prehistoric collection at the National Museum and visited a string of palaces. We took slow canal-side walks, hand-in-hand, during those long, Scandinavian summer sunsets.
A friend gifted us a boat tour via Traveler’s Joy, which allowed us to see city landmarks from the water and the charming neighborhoods from the narrow canal passages. Afterwards, we relaxed on the famous canal street, Nyhavn. Bordered with old, brightly colored townhouses that harbored rows of lively café patios, this storybook street compelled us to sit, eat a Smørrebrød (a Danish open sandwich), and people watch.
We saw couples board boats for canal tours, and families walk by with their dogs. We overheard a man with a thick Russian accent at the table next to us explain to his inquiring waiter that his glass of wine was “quite boring, actually. Reminds me of when I was small child.” The waiter was aghast. Ryan and I shook our heads, trying not to laugh, amazed at the rich human interactions one can observe if one is willing to simply pay attention.
Another afternoon, we wandered into the pleasantly strange Christiania; a fascinating neighborhood that is actually its own “free city” within the city. Like the Vatican. But not at all like the Vatican in that it is an alternative living space for a non-consumerist community. The old houses and buildings, rendered modern shanties, are painted with artful designs. Decorative displays made of recycled scraps abound.
What might have once been manicured shrubs and lawns, have sprouted into jungle-like overgrowth, seemingly merging with the buildings. I felt reminded, simultaneously, of Never Never Land and the apocalypse. It was delightful to explore. We had a craft beer, cheered to Weird, and noted, gratefully, that we could not complain that any of this was “quite boring, actually.”
We couldn’t leave Copenhagen without a visit to the fanciful Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks. We went on our last evening and explored the grounds as thousands of warmly lit lanterns began to glow. The rides and games were of the vintage variety and pristine gardens were around every cobble-stoned turn. Restaurants and bars were ubiquitous, catering to a fun adult crowd. A late night outdoor concert featuring a well-known Icelandic artist was the final cherry to top the night. We traipsed back to our apartment, too light and cheerful from all the whimsy to be sad about leaving the next morning.
As we made our way south to Italy, we wondered how anything could top our time in Copenhagen. But there are many kinds of wonderful, it turns out. Our time in Italy was packed with amazing experiences; a leisurely stay in the stunning lake town of Bellagio, an all-day hike between the five picturesque towns in Cinque Terre, tours to introduce us to the prodigious art scene of Florence, and finally, a farm stay in rural Tuscany. While we could talk endlessly about all of these places, we felt most inspired by our time on a little organic farm in the town of Montepulciano.
My heart melted when I laid eyes on the Fattoria San Martino, our “agriturismo” stay in Montepulciano. The agriturismo label means that guests can experience true rural Tuscan life by staying in rustic accommodations on a working and often family-run farm. San Martino is perched on a hill overlooking the countryside and is encased by large oak trees, Italian stone pines, and olive groves. There are vegetable gardens, horse stables, and rows of vineyards.
Fattoria San Martino is the passion project of wife and husband duo, Karin and Antonio. Karin explained to us that they created San Martino to manifest their own idea of heaven and to share it with others. They insist on soulful hospitality, eco friendly practices, and organic food from the farm that is served artfully in their cozy and stylish restaurant.
Every detail of our stay was meant to “inspire a slow, communal, and creative way of living,” Karin explained. We could have spent months on this little farm, just trying to soak in the magic. In most photos that we took here, I am pictured with a crazed smile, emanating a joy bordering on mania. Ryan loved it too, but he was less inclined to sudden bouts of happy tears.
After we explored the charming medieval streets of Montepulciano, Karin (my new role model and hero), gave us walking directions to a shop that rented out mopeds and a map that outlined a loop of Tuscan towns that she recommended we visit. We’d do pretty much anything Karin told us to, so we secured our cherry red moped (one of our favorite Traveler’s Joy gifts!) and followed the notes on her map to four nearby towns.
We scooted to Pienza and sampled copious amounts of pecorino cheeses and cured meats. We scooted to, Bagno Vignoni, where we sipped wine by a large public bath in the main piazza. We scooted to San Quirico d’ Orcia where we watched locals prepare for the annual medieval festival, Festa del Barbarrosa. We scooted to Montechiello, where we took photos of every dreamy alley, and sat on the walls of the town to watch the sunset. Our days in Tuscany were like a montage out of a movie.
“This pasta was made from the wheat grown on this farm. Enjoy!” The San Martino chef placed two plates of russet colored spaghetti in front of Ryan and I. Our last dinner at San Martino. “It’s gorgeous, thank you!” I exclaimed. Ryan gave me a squinty-eyed smile, as if that was an odd thing to say. “What,” I laughed, “It’s true! This pasta. This view. Everything is gorgeous!”
He conceded, and looked out at the rolling hills of wine country. We reminisced about our recent excursions while the horizon grew dark. Until the last bit of light only emanated from the candles on our table and from the windows of the warm kitchen. We lost a sense of time watching a troop of fireflies dance in the nearby fields, almost forgetting that another big adventure still awaited us in Ireland.
A few friends generously chipped in on Traveler’s Joy to gift us a rental car for our weeklong road trip around Ireland, which afforded us the autonomy and flexibility to see the beauty of the countryside on our own terms. It was a great feeling, to just pull the car over whenever something beautiful presented itself. The drive was just as much a source of joy during this trip as was the time spent at our destinations. Driving on the left side of the very narrow roads was only initially intimidating and we eventually adapted.
After arriving in Dublin, we immediately drove to the western coast of Ireland to explore the Connemara region from the home base of Galway. Our days were filled with hiking and site seeing. We were blown away by the Upper Diamond Hill Trail in the Connemara National Park and the lovely Kylemore Abbey and it’s six-acre Victorian walled garden.
In the evenings, we hopped around the boisterous and friendly pubs in Galway. We spent the most time at our favorite pub, The Crane, nursing pints of Guinness and listening to traditional bands play in the lively upstairs bar.
On our way south to our next stop in Killarny, we went a bit out of our way to make a visit to one of our most highly anticipated sites: the Cliffs of Moher. Knowing that this is a very popular tourist destination, we planned to escape the crowds and take a daylong walking trail along these spectacular cliffs from Liscannor to Doolin. It happened to be a cloudy day and as we approached the cliffs, an impenetrable wall of fog stalled us.
My heart dropped. We couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us. We waited for a long time, but the fog persisted. We finally left, knowing that some things just don’t go as planned. A bit disappointed, we shuffled into a nearby pub for lunch where a crowd of hopeful locals was watching Ireland play in a World Cup game. We stumbled upon a historic and exciting event! It wasn’t what we had planned, but it was a rowdy good time.
The Friars Glenn in Killarny, another gift from our Traveler’s Joy, was our favorite stay in Ireland. Tucked in the Killarney National Park, it’s a country house with gracious hosts, hearty Irish breakfasts, and a family of wild red deer that grazed right outside the kitchen patio every day. Friars Glenn was the ideal base to survey the National Park, where we hiked and went horseback riding. Ryan’s horse, Paco, wasn’t exactly cooperative. I can still see the hilarious visions of Paco going rogue off the trail, stubbornly stopping to eat grass, and then sprinting in a full gallop to catch up with the guide and me, while Ryan hung on for his life. Even Ryan couldn’t help laughing at Paco, despite the soreness he endured for days after the ride.
The last day of our trip was spent driving east to Kilkenny and relaxing at our final stay, The Lawcus Farm. Time slowed for us on this small farm. We became fast friends with the farm dog, Bruce, who accompanied us as we explored this pocket of rural paradise. We even met a goat that seemed to be best of friends with a six hundred pound pig.
We spent our last meal with one of our Lawcus hosts, Anne-Marie, who enthralled us with tales from her interesting life. Anne-Marie and her husband had recently returned from a month long camping trip in the Amazon jungle and her stories were riveting. She shared their travel philosophy of intentionally seeking out unique and immersive experiences to keep them growing, learning, and on their toes.
Even with a business to run and fully-grown kids, they still go on epic adventures. Ryan and I agreed that we want adopt that travel philosophy. Traveling as a means to grow, gather stories, and stay wide-awake to the wonder of life. We had already grown so much closer on this trip and gained back a bit of child-like curiosity. We marveled at the possibilities that life-long travel together might bring.
Our family and friends gifted us a beautiful beginning in our marriage journey. Through their gifts on Traveler’s Joy, we created memories that we will always look back on with joy and gratitude. We wholeheartedly recommend Traveler’s Joy as a registry to anyone who wants less stuff to stash and more stories to share.