Part one: Davis family takes on Ireland

There’s a reason why people cite road trips as a priority while traveling. Driving through small winding roads amongst green hills, stone walls and bodies of water. Sparkling sunshine one minute, downpour of rain the next, and double rainbows to follow. There’s something charming about spending hours in a car with friends. Snacks, stories, music and scenery. What more could you want, besides the odd wrong turn, annoying GPS Sally, or accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road.

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I have always dreamed about traveling with my family, and living in Ireland has provided me a way to live that dream.  My dad and older brother Isaac came to visit me for two weeks. I would use the word ‘miracle’ to describe the fact that they were able to make the trip out here. Isaac had just graduated from a Masters program in Ottawa and it was my dad’s first trip outside of North America. Combine that with the fact they were bringing me home-made maple syrup and my excitement was obnoxiously palpable.

My plan was to show them my life in Dublin, rent a car, pray for sunshine and escape to the Irish countryside, scope out a little family heritage, and drink the perfect pint of Guinness. When I first greeted them at the front door I could’ve sworn I was dreaming  (in fact I very well could’ve been. They got here at the early hour of 9:00am). I led them into my studio apartment, but after dragging in the suitcases there was no room left inside for dad! Not really, but almost. Picture this – studio apartment with myself, a couple of suitcases, and three manly men. The next week was a display of obstacle courses, tight squeezes, shuffle dance stepping while swinging your partner round and round, and eating from precarious surfaces. The good news is there was no need to turn the heater on.

The first couple of days were spent in Dublin where I utilized my tour guide skills and escorted them to my nearest work place. They had a tapas smorgasbord as well as an Old Fashioned Canuck (a cocktail I named, which obviously contains maple syrup). They even had the chance to pull a pint of Guinness for a photo op. They stopped pulling the pint as soon as the picture was taken though, much to the dismay of my friend Vitor, the barman. We also went inside St Patrick’s Cathedral, toured the Guinness Factory with a couple of token Irish pals, and excitedly watched The Amazing Spiderman 2 at The Savoy Cinema.

Dinner and Old Fashioned Canucks at the workplace

Dinner and Old Fashioned Canucks at the workplace

Next on the itinerary was two days in Clare and one day in Sligo. After extensive reasearch we discovered we’d have to get to the airport to rent a car. Steve decided to call a taxi company to get a flat rate to the airport. I hurried everyone out the door at the estimated taxi time of arrival and we proceeded to wait another half hour on the sidewalk. At last I spotted a white station wagon lumbering down the road towards us. We filled the trunk with our luggage and peeled out onto the road, and by peeled, I really mean the most silent taxi man I’ve ever had awkwardly attempted to merge with traffic onto the roadway. With the luggage, a few big men, and a big breakfast not long before, the car was riding low. We inched along while the driver struggled with the concept of wise lane changing.

We make it to Dame Street, the centre of town, when suddenly we’re pulled over and the car has been turned off. Just as I work up the nerve to ask why we’ve been delayed, I hear a knock on the window. The Garda police officer instantly accuses the driver of not being properly registered, asks him why the meter isn’t on, and if we’re friends of his. The driver responded by saying he works for a company and is using his friends car. After a few more accusations, the cop tells us we should get out because the driver isn’t going anywhere. As we retrieved our luggage the Garda stops circulating the car just long enough to tell us that the tires are shot. We climb into a new taxi and the policeman melodramatically yells “you’re lucky to be alive”. Good start.

After a few minor delays at the airport (such as discussing the hidden 1,000 euro hold on Isaac’s credit car with the sales rep) we’re finally driving on the wrong side of the road. We were instantly off to a promising start, unable to find an exit from the airport and accidentally taking a one way to a car garage. Isaac held his own through all of the driving challenges – narrow roads, sitting on the opposite side he’s used to, terrible windshield wipers, and strong lead vocals in the singalong.

Next up on the adventure is Bunratty Castle, Clare, Sligo, and Dublin nightlife.

Good coffe, Dadios?

Good coffe, Dadios?

Looks like it!

Looks like it!

Guinness Factory

Guinness Factory

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Family channel advert

Family channel advert

St Patricks Cathedral

St Patricks Cathedral

Spot Isaac!

Spot Isaac!

St Patricks

St Patricks

My best "welcome" look

My best “welcome” look

Great site on my doorstep :)

Great site on my doorstep 🙂

 

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Crossing off the Counties: Roscommon

Ireland is a small country. Driving from tip to tip, Creeslough, Co. Donegal to Bantry, Co. Cork, will take six hours and 52 minutes (Google Maps). To put this in perspective, it took me longer to drive from my hometown Kinburn, ON to my university in London, ON, and that isn’t even the full length of the province of Ontario.

map-of-ireland

Although Ireland is small, each county is known for something different. People who live two hours apart will support different sports teams, embody different cliches, and have completely different accents. In Canada, those who live two hours apart are practically neighbours. People here don’t even need to be from different counties in Ireland to sound different — two people from different parts of Dublin have stronger accent variations than people who live at opposite ends of Canada. For example, there is a stark contrast between the “posh” D4 accent and a classic North side accent. A good way to imagine a D4 accent is to picture someone elongating each syllable while speaking with marbles in their mouth, whereas a typical North Dub speaks so quickly they’ll leave you with verbal whiplash. Although these areas all fall under the Dublin umbrella, the culture is different, and I find these differences fascinating.

Because the island is so small, there is no excuse for me to not experience every county. Last year I went to Galway, Tipperary, Tullamore, Wicklow, Kerry, and Belfast. This year I ros-churchkicked off the counties with the exciting Roscommon. The population of the entire county is 64,065, and the county town population is 5,017. Roscommon has an area of 984 square miles and is the fifth least-populous county in Ireland. Needless to say, what was I thinking picking Roscommon? I got a Groupon voucher for a nice hotel, I thought Roscommon rolled off the tongue nicely, the town website said it was scenic, and I want to see all of the counties.

I saw this town in its entirety, and I saw it quickly. It took about half an hour to do a full lap of the town. In terms of food, there was one cafe that was bustling during the lunch hour. It had very kind staff and offered soup, sandwiches, cakes, and even gluten free options. There was also three or four fast food places open in the evening, and one amazing Indian restaurant where we had the best naan bread I have ever tasted. Although there were few options for food, the sleepy town of Roscommon won’t leave you thirsty. In true Irish form, we saw about seven or eight pubs. For landmarks Sacred Heart is a beautiful church with stunning glass windows and there was an intriguing Abbey ruin behind our hotel. One highlight was a perk included in the Groupon voucher — we had “sparkling wine” on arrival, which turned out to be a fancy bottle of cider and two champagne glasses. Once I finished giggling over the fact that there was a cork in a bottle of cider,  we realized it was the perfect refreshing beverage after spending the day in the leisure center.

Ultimately, when visiting Roscommon the key is to bring good company. Wandering through a quiet town in drizzling rain and January wind is nice when you have a good travel partner. It’s a pleasant family friendly town, and visiting made me appreciate living in Dublin that much more.

Crossing off the counties together

Crossing off the counties together

The Abbey behind our hotel
The Abbey behind our hotel

Toasting 2013

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

Seven countries, a serious romance, and a full belly. 2013, you’ve been good to me.

My mind was blown when I saw One Republic at The Olympia. I felt like a true local when I laughed at the Dublin jokes during the performance of Once at the Gaiety Theatre. I clapped and bopped along during the Jersey Boys Broadway production in London. I embraced summer while Glen Hansard and The Frames serenaded me at the Galway Arts Festival. With a glass or two of wine and bubbly I toasted Christmas with my love and wonderful friends at the National Concert Hall during the Baroque Christmas performance. I was frequently blessed by stumbling across great artist performances on Grafton Street. I stood in awe at Rodin’s sculpture of “The Kiss” in Edinburgh. I walked amongst glorious architecture in Barcelona, Paris, and Edinburgh.

2013 was the year I got a taste for traveling Europe. Here’s a quick summary of my travels:

Stockholm, Sweden was snowy and stunning, filled with warm memories in the hostel and laughter everywhere we went.

Brussels, Belgium indulged my taste buds, reunited me and my roommate from Gold Coast, and constantly surprised me at how wonderful a place it is.

Barcelona, Spain was sensory overload. We were shocked at how affordable wine was at restaurants, had a great night out on the hostel pub crawl, and were overwhelmed by Gaudi’s architecture.

London, England was a double trip destination. Both trips reunited me with old friends (one from Brisbane and one from university in Canada), both were filled with delicious coffee, never ending markets, an awe of how well the tube works, and leisurely strolls in Hyde Park.

Paris, France was a living dream.

Edinburgh, Scotland was also a double trip. Less than an hours flight and at about 20 euro round trip it’s too good to pass up. Edinburgh is an everything city — great food, beautiful hills, enchanting streets, art and culture. The variety of food was so good both times I was there it was like a trip for my taste buds. The Gothic architecture seems to be inspired by the natural landscape — the tall, dark buildings were made to stand amongst the black clouds and mist.

Sliema, Malta was the trip where I finally got my summer. Me and my wonderful 2013 travel partner gallivanted across the entire Island, drank a bottle of wine with each beautiful dinner, sunbathed just a little too much, and were mesmerized by the many colours of the crystal clear, sparkling Mediterranean Sea.

As for my token Before 30, here’s what I crossed off:

#19. Attend an orchestra performance

#44. Eat chocolate in Belgium

#61. Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

#76. Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin

#77. Visit Stockholm

In 2014 I’m hoping to cross off a whole lot more items and also experience things that I never even knew should be on my list. I like to have goals because it makes me feel like I’m working towards something, however a lot of the most spectacular things I experienced this year I never could’ve planned. The best thing about New Years is hindsight. You’re given an opportunity to reflect, appreciate, and understand the things you went through during the year as a whole rather than dwelling on individual instances. And of course there is the beautiful promise of a New Year, destined to be whatever you decide to make of it.

I think this excerpt from my favourite post of the year “Not all those who wander are lost” summarizes 2013 for me,

“There are so many countries to explore, coffees to drink, songs to sing, and people to  learn from. I can’t wait. Life is thrilling and utterly unpredictable, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

A quick trip out to beautiful Ballybunion, Kerry

A quick trip out to beautiful Ballybunion, Kerry

Beach side sangria in Barcelona

Beach side sangria in Barcelona

Rooftop terrace in London

Rooftop terrace in London

Reunited with UWO friends in Dublin

Reunited with UWO friends in Dublin

Being a tourist in London

Being a tourist in London

Drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower

Drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower

Smorgasbord at dusk on a summer date

Smorgasbord at dusk on a summer date

Rodin's "The Kiss"

Rodin’s “The Kiss” in Edinburgh

Wandering through Paris with a best friend from Canada

Wandering through Paris with a best friend from Canada

Embracing summer in Malta

Embracing summer in Malta

Hours spent in this chair during summer days

Hours spent in this chair during summer days

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

Feast upon feast at home

Feast upon feast at home

"Once" at the Gaiety

“Once” at the Gaiety

My 2013 travel partner

My 2013 travel partner

Surrounded by long grass, rolling hills and vicious wind

Surrounded by long grass, rolling hills and persistent wind

Markets in London

Markets in London

Picnics in the park

Picnics in the park

Attending an orchestra performance

Attending an orchestra performance

Edinburgh romance

Edinburgh romance

First Christmas in my first studio apartment

First Christmas in my first studio apartment

Countless good coffees

Countless good coffees

Barcelona

Barcelona

2013, thank you.

Cheers, 2013. It’s been a slice.

Pulling heartstrings in Paris

This is the story of a love affair. The kind of love that makes you wake up with a silly smile stuck on your face and uses your heartstrings to create a beautiful melody. The kind of love that makes you   IMG_2534 feel warm inside even in a cold breeze. The kind of love that makes you feel at home. This is the story of how I fell love with Paris.

Maddie and I are the last get off of the train. After the scene we caused while trying to put our suitcases on the top luggage rack, we were in no rush to elbow our way through the crowds and possibly cause injury.

Even though it was 9pm, it was still bright outside when we arrived at Paris du Nord. Maddie, one of my best friends from university in Canada, led the way. With her iPhone out and head on the “tourist swivel,” we stuck out. After walking the wrong way for about five minutes, Maddie showed me the screenshot of the map and directions she saved when we had internet. Once I translated the French (not), I realized the directions we were following were from the hotel to the station, rather than the station to the hotel. So, after pulling our suitcases back past the same groups of people, we stood at an intersection for another five minutes trying to decide which of the six streets to walk down.

Don’t worry, we managed to keep the awkward ball rolling once we found the hotel 15 minutes later. After a highly confusing check in where the total ended up being a substantially larger number than we expected, the man at reception told us our room number and pointed out the lift. After pressing a couple of buttons, pushing on the doors, and mumbling a profanity or two, we decided to casually walk by reception and lug our suitcases up a couple of flights of stairs. Once we got to our floor and walked down the hallway, we realized that neither of us remembered the room number. “306, was it?” “No, I thought it was 308…” I tried using the key on a couple of doors, but once I heard someone approaching the door from the other side I quickly aborted the mission and took off around the corner. Maddie was forced to go back down to reception and play it cool while asking your man what room we were in. Great start.

Finally we left for dinner. Strolling down the streets of Paris made me forget about every mishap we’d had. All of my senses were engaged — the smell of fresh bread, the sight of beautiful stone

Maddie hanging by the Seine River

Maddie hanging by the Seine River

Parisian buildings, the sounds from the locals wining and dining with trails of cigarette smoke wafting behind them. I felt as if I had walked into a painting, and I belonged there.

We found a cute restaurant with a terrace that was packed with locals. Maddie ordered for us in French from our server, a pretty girl with delicate features, sporting a massive bandage across her nose… (Nose job?) Our meals ended up being completely different from what we expected, but we enjoyed every bit of food. We sipped on French chardonnay and devoured a salad that was topped with multiple cheeses, as well as a crusty baguette, and a croque monsieur.

The locals surrounding us oozed class. The women all sported longer bobs, natural makeup, and chic style consisting of black rimmed glasses, black jeans and a smart jacket. As for the men — tall, dark and handsome. The cliche must have originated in Paris.

This city inspires people. Although it never worked out for us to visit any of the art museums, we were constantly surrounded by art. Besides the physical paintings and photos that were sold on the streets, there were the sculptures outside of the Louvre, the stunning bridges over the Seine river, and the mesmerizing Gothic churches. The architecture is a delicious feast for your eyes — buildings are perfectly symmetrical, clean, and utterly European.

Picnicking under the Eiffel Tower (#61 on my Before 30) has earned the title as one of the best nights I’ve had since I’ve moved to Europe. We spent the afternoon wandering around markets, bakeries, and shops till we got the perfect picnic dinner. Once we got off of the train, we walked underneath the Eiffel Tower, our feet pounding on the pavement where hundreds, thousands, millions have walked before. One look up and my heart skipped a beat. This is Paris.

#44 - Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

#61 – Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

Up ahead there was a stretch of green grass with people scattered across the lawn. We spread out our towels, set up our smorgasbord, and decided to bust out the wine.

I was a little nervous about using the corkscrew we bought at the corner store. It looked simple enough — s metal screw about four inches long with a perpendicular wooden handle at the top. I’ve used enough wine openers to know that the ones with more gadgets (the bigger, more intimidating looking openers) tend to be the easiest ones to us.

Our picnic

Our picnic

“Okay, pass me the Riesling!” I said with an air of confidence. I’ve been a server for six years and drink a good bit of wine in my spare time, I’m practically a pro wine opener. I peel off the foil cover and discover a synthetic cork. Grand. No worry of it breaking to bits. I tilt the tip of the screw and turn the handle until a  little bit shows, and pull. Nothing. I put a little more muscle into it. Still nothing. I give it everything I got! Not even a budge. Maddie and I proceeded to pass the bottle back and forth for a good 10 minutes before we decided to try the other bottle. We heaved and pulled and eventually freed the wooden cork from the Chablis. Little bits of cork never tasted so good as the first glass of wine.

We spent the evening under the Tower lights drinking wine, debating philosophy in the homeland of many greats such as Foucault, and eating an obscene amount of French cheese – Camembert on baguette, wrapped in prosciutto, on top of a cherry tomato, and straight up. All of the cheese.  I didn’t want to even look at cheese again after that night.

Parisian culture is relaxing, indulgent, and beautiful. I think it’s fair to say that Paris captured my heart, and I don’t plan on asking for it back for awhile.

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Outside of the Louvre

Outside of the Louvre

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City landscapes

City landscapes

The last supper!

The last supper!

The moment after I just finished saying I wished we had heard more French music, like the accordion.

The moment after I just finished saying I wished we had heard more French music, like the accordion.

Belgian bliss

I got the waffle from a waffle truck. The breeze carried the sweet smell of the dough, enticing me to find the truck and take a break from getting lost in Brussels. We ordered two waffles, each with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Belgian chocolate. We sat at the top of a set of stairs overlooking a park nestled in front of city landscapes. With the sun on my face and the soft sound of French style accordion music from a busker, I had the perfect setting for indulging in my first Belgian waffle. One bite of the dense, sugary waffle and I was ruined for any future non-Belgian waffle.  It was the best pastry I’ve ever had, and the ice cream and chocolate made the treat all the more delectable. There’s a reason why Belgian waffles are famous.

Bliss.

Bliss

I booked a trip to Brussels on a whim. There was a Ryanair sale so one day my friend and I sat down and booked three random trips. #44 on my Before 30 list (eat chocolate in Belgium) was reason enough to buy a 40 euro flight.

When we told people we were going to Brussels, a lot of our friends told us negative stories about their experiences in Belgium. I had a gut feeling I would still IMG_6922like Brussels, and I was right. Brussels is beautiful in so many ways – beautiful architecture, beautiful food, BEAUTIFUL men. I love Brussels.

Our flight was early Monday morning, which proved to be problematic because we had a friends farewell party Sunday night. Service industry staff tend to stay out late, so I opted for a no sleep option. After we hit up a couple of bars and had a little after party with some peanut butter toast, I went home, packed, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the airport as the sun rose.

What seemed like a good idea at the time quickly became slightly miserable. After catching a bus to a massive train station we had to find a tram to take us to the hostel. Combine extreme exhaustion, a pending hangover, and a complicated foreign language station and you can imagine how difficult it was for us to find our tram. We spent a lot of time looking pathetic which gave the Belgian people a chance to show us how nice they are. Multiple people asked us if we needed help and one person even walked us to the area we needed. The transit system in Brussels is very good once you figure out how it works, and even though all of the signs weren’t in English, we found it easy to find people that speak English.

After a much needed two hour snooze, we wandered around the city. We took the tram to Louise Station, an upscale area with storefronts sporting labels such as Versace and Vera Wang. As we waited for my friend Julie (who I lived with in Gold Coast and now lives in Brussels,) we had a chance to people watch. Brussels is very, very different from Dublin. From the areas we explored in the city centre, we found it to be a more peaceful city than Dublin. People speak more softly, everyone seems relaxed, and people have great style. Even our taxi driver looked like he could have been in a stylish magazine for  casual day wear.

Health and fitness seemed to be a cultural value. We noticed a lot of people jogging all over the city and restaurants advertised organic food. For a country that’s

All of the food!

All of the food!

known for its chocolate, beer, waffles and frites you’d expect to find an overweight population. We found the opposite to be true — on average people were healthy looking. Oh, and did I mention attractive? From my perspective, this city is doing its part with maintaining the tall, dark and handsome stereotype.

Brussels is small enough that we were able to see most of the city centre landmarks on foot. We spent the day getting lost and stumbling upon gorgeous buildings and sculptures. We ate beautiful French food and visited multiple chocolate shops, and let’s just say I crossed #44 off my list several times that day.

We also visited Delirium Cafe and tasted a few delicious fruit beers. Kriek is a cherry beer, and it is unbelievably delicious. My friend Iza hates beer, so much so that she had never even had a full beer and she’s in her 20s. She had two glasses of Kriek! Delirium had many beers to choose from, but you either had to choose from the menu or ask the bartender for a recommendation because the taps were blank. Normally beer is advertised on bar taps, and brands want the best display possible (for example, it’s best to be on the end of bar rather than nestled into the middle). The way Delirium is set up is a better experience for the consumer because if you’re chatting with the bartender or looking through the menu you’re more likely to pick a product that suits you rather than just choosing a pint of Heineken because it’s the first thing you see. In Belgium there is also a wide range of glass wear to pair with each beer and they pull pints differently. If you like beer, you’d be in heaven, and even if you don’t like beer I think there was something for everyone.

I loved Brussels, not because it’s a flashy, but because it’s quality. It’s been added to my list of dream cities to live in, and even inspired me to add something new to my Before 30 list — #97. Learn French.

Spot the waffle truck!

Spot the waffle truck!

Best. Waffle. Ever.

Best. Waffle. Ever.

Brussels is the capital of the European Union.

Brussels is the capital of the European Union.

Iza with her cherry beer!

Iza with her cherry beer!

Beautiful monument.

Beautiful monument.

Yes please.

Yes please.

"Welcome to my home!"

“Welcome to my home!”

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Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.

#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.

#76 – Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin

I crossed something off my Before 30 list this week. #76 Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.

My friend Louise and I hanging out by St Patrick's Cathedral for the parade.

My friend Louise and I hanging out by St Patrick’s Cathedral for the parade.

Ireland is a small country with big history. According to Google, Ireland’s population is sitting at 4,487,000 and the size of the country is 84,421 km². To give you some perspective, Canada’s population is 34,482,779 and the size of the country is 9,985,000 km². Ontario, a single Canadian province, has a population of 12,851,821 (2011) and is 1,076,395 km². It would take me longer to drive from my hometown to my university (which were both in Ontario) than it would for me to drive from one end of Ireland to the other. Even though Ireland is relatively small, Saint Patrick’s Day reminds us of how big of a presence Ireland has on the world stage. There is something about this culture that makes everyone wants to be at least a little bit Irish.

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national holiday. Saint Patrick’s day, a religious fest, was first celebrated in a quiet fashion in Ireland around 500 years after the saint’s death (March 17, 460, 461 or maybe 493) (The Little Big Book of Ireland). In 1903, it became a public holiday in Ireland, and pubs were ordered by law to remain closed. Since the law has been abolished in the 1970s, it seems there is a lot more drinking than feasting happening on the holiday.

Green!

Green!

Facts:

– Guinness has lobbied the Canadian government to make Saint Patrick’s Day a national holiday

– Chicago dyes its rivers green on St. Patrick’s Day

– Savannah, Georgia (home to the world’s second-largest parade) dyes its fountains green on St. Patrick’s Day

ref. The Little Big Book of Ireland

I had to work on Paddy’s Day, but I made sure to do a few cliche things during the day. I checked out the parade, had an Irish coffee at a traditional pub, and had some Guinness stew and a pint while listening to a musician belt out some tunes. The parade was underwhelming considering I could only see the tops of

I missed the ladder memo.

I missed the ladder memo.

the floats and the occasional flag waved from a marching band. People get there extremely early to stake out the prime real estate and some individuals go so far as to bring ladders to climb and perch on. Everyone was decked out in green, orange and white and the giddy children running around in the rain with their faces painted were adorable. I wanted to avoid Temple Bar because I knew it was jammed with tourists so my friend and I checked out a pub on Thomas Street that was filled with locals. I can’t believe it was the first time I had an Irish coffee because that drink is designed for me — black coffee, whiskey, and topped with cream. Delicious. There were some older people sitting around playing some trad music and everyone sang along, making it a very cozy atmosphere.

I don’t have many crazy stories from Paddy’s Day, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to reflect on a few of my favourite Irish things.

Music: I LOVE how much of a role music plays in the Irish culture. Anytime I’m in a room where everyone is singing along to an old Irish tune I have a big silly smile pasted on my face. Everyone knows the words to these songs! Ireland is a perfect representation of how music brings people together, and I love it.

Louise - prime example of friendly Irish people :)

Louise – prime example of friendly Irish people 🙂

Beauty: When I get out of Dublin and drive through Irish countryside I feel like I’m in a movie. The stone hedges, rolling green hills spotted with fluffy sheep, and trees reflected in shining lakes take my breath away. I will never tire of this country’s beauty.

People: Irish people are very friendly and in my experience they love to help you out and will chat your ear off if given the opportunity. On the other hand, once you get to know them they’re way of being friendly is to “take the piss” (translation – slag, chirp, tease, etc). I now know when they tease me about Canadian’s being slow, it’s out of love. Or that’s what I tell myself…

History: It’s hard for me to comprehend how much older Ireland is than Canada. There is so much history rooted in this country it overwhelms and challenges my mind.

Whiskey: I was never interested in whiskey before moving to Ireland, and now I fully appreciate the culture around it. I’m really into wine so it just makes sense that I’d appreciate whiskey tasting as well.

I LOVE YOU IRISH COFFEE!

I LOVE YOU IRISH COFFEE!

I made some Bailey's Irish Cream cupcakes in honor of Paddy's Day. delish.

I made some Bailey’s Irish Cream cupcakes in honor of Paddy’s Day. delish.

Note to self: St Patrick’s Day is March 17. After making the mistake of booking (and consequently cancelling) a cheap flight to Edinburgh on March 17, I’ll never forget international drinking day again.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

I’m a contemplater, which means I often get really philosophical about life and simple realizations tend to blow my mind. I turned 24 on Saturday, and leading up to my birthday I was bombarded with feelings of awe and wonderment at life.

I had a moment of clarity while thinking about where I was a year ago and how I thought the next year of my life would look at the time. On my 23rd birthday I was living in Armstrong, BC, having just left Australia suddenly, and I had my first shift at a job that I quickly learned to hate. My “plan” was to live in Canada for three

My good friend Candice and I at Lake Louise last summer.

My good friend Candice and I at Lake Louise last summer.
I’m sure Banff is one of the most beautiful places I’ll ever see.

months while waiting for my new Australian visa to be approved then catch the first plane back to sunny Queensland. I never could’ve predicted what was in store for me, and in hindsight I’ve realized that life is truly what you make of it. I chose BC rather than move back to Ontario partially because I didn’t want to settle in too much and uproot my life and my relationships when I left Canada “in three months”. Eight months later, my current relationships deepened, I started a brand new, sure to be life long friendship, I was stunned daily by the glorious mountains surrounding me, and I discovered new passions. What started as a transition stage of life turned into a major chapter, a chapter where I learned to be more open minded, that I love to cook with alternative food, and that I’m obsessed with mountains. Most importantly, I learned to never sit still and let life pass you by. I learned to find something good about every day — whether it was going for a walk with my sister and brother in law, having a delicious coffee, reading a good book, waking up and seeing sunshine flood through the windows, or witnessing hoarfrost twinkle on the trees, there is always something good in every day. I had a regular customer at a restaurant that I worked at in Vernon, and without fail he would always say “every day is a good day, and some are better than others.” It’s those simple things that are what’s best about life.

Now I’m 24, I live in Ireland, and I have no idea where I’ll be in a year from now. It’s an exciting age, because I’m starting to figure out what kind of

Coffee time in Stockholm.

Coffee time in Stockholm.

person I want to be and what I want out of life, but I still have time to change my mind a whole lot. I could settle down at any time or I can keep globetrotting. I can party all night or I can stay home and read a book. I can wear my nose ring and still be taken seriously. I can dance like crazy or sip on wine while discussing philosophy and values. I’m finished my degree but could still get a Masters. The options or endless, and I’m so grateful.

I want to be the kind of person that follows through. If I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do it. I said I wanted to move in October, so when I was offered a job in Dublin I did some research and applied for a visa after five days. I said I wanted to travel Europe this year, summer specifically, and I have flights booked to Edinburgh, Brussels, and Barcelona, and plans to see many more countries in the warmer months. I’ve been talking about getting a tattoo, so I went for it. I said I wanted to be settled in Dublin in a week — I did it in five days. I’ve found my favourite coffee shops. I’ve seen Irish countryside. I’ve had a pint of Guinness and different kinds of whiskey straight. I can sing along to a few token Irish tunes. I say “half three” instead of “three thirty”. I live in Ireland, and after having Australia snatched out from underneath me, I feel a sense of urgency to enjoy each day and every cultural experience. I can’t waste any time.

The world is at our finger tips and all I have to do is seize the good opportunities, have some music ready to make the soundtrack to my life, and bring a water bottle and maybe an apple or two. There are so many countries to explore, coffees to drink, songs to sing, and people to  learn from. I can’t wait. Life is thrilling and utterly unpredictable, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

The amazing Wicklow Gap.

The amazing Wicklow Gap.

Road trippin’

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When I pictured what life should look like in Ireland, it always included road trips on narrow country lanes with plenty of sheep, castles, greenery, and tea. Take a very random group of people, a deal from Pigsback for a two night stay in Tipperary, and a little red car and I finally got my road trip.

Allow me to set the scene for you. Work colleagues — two boys and two girls. James, an Irish lad, is best described as someone who has all of the fun all of the IMG_6624time. He’s a little outrageous, and some may say he has a few hippie-like qualities. Izabela is a passionate Polish girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to make sure everyone else knows as well. She’s good craic and often wants to “do something crazy.” Shane is your token surf boy who looks more American than Irish. He comes across as very civilized at first and then as he becomes more comfortable he starts cracking the dad jokes one minute and doing a headstand the next. As for me, let’s just say that if you had to pick a character from Friends that I’m most similar to, it would be Monica. I bring the snacks and the itinerary. Together, it’s an interesting dynamic.

We didn’t get out of work will about 6:00am Sunday, so we aimed to leave between 2:00-4:00 that afternoon. It wasn’t an ambitious plan, but nevertheless it failed. Here’s a little break down of what happened during those hours:

2:00 — Iza is showered, packed, and ready to go. I’m baking muffins. The boys are nowhere to be found.

2:30 — Iza is starting to get antsy, I have finished getting ready, both Shane and James are not answering their phones or responding to Facebook messages.

3:15 — James is alive! Still no sign of Shane, who also happens to be the driver.

3:30-4:00 — James tries to protect Shane’s well-being (from Iza) by trying to find his home number to hopefully contact Shane and salvage the day. I proceed to run errands.

4:30 — James discovers that Shane has been sleeping INSIDE James’ house the entire time.

6:00 — We finally depart Dublin.

The road trip consisted of a little McDonalds takeout, scenic views of street lights, and some classic shimmying and fist pumping to Backstreet Boys, 2Pac, Vitamin C, and Michael Jackson. We got a deal from Pigsback for two rooms in the Ballykisteen Hotel and Golf Resort for 89euro a room/two nights. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere, but breakfast each morning was delicious and the leisure center was good fun. During our first visit to the leisure center we encountered the very hospitable Tipperary folk. You know how after sitting in the car for a couple of hours and working over 24 hours in two days all you want to do is relax in a hot tub for a while? Relaxation was our number one priority, so we beelined to the hot tub. Now, my job is to chat with people. I am a full time schmoozer. After a long weekend, the last thing I want to do is make idle chit chat. We finally get into the hot tub and Shane is already there, chatting away with a lady who had the thickest Irish accent I have ever heard. Shane seemed to understand her, but he bailed shortly after we got there and left the two foreigners to carry the conversation. Making conversation is one thing, but pretending to understand someone is a whole other level . This woman was extremely friendly, but for all I know she could have been saying cruel things about me while I smiled and nodded along, and there were numerous moments when I’d just keep nodding until I realized she had asked me a question and I had to guess if I should respond with “I’ve been in Ireland since the end of October, came here to travel,” or “Yes I do love castles” or “Sure I can turn the bubbles back on.” Combine her heavy accent with a too full hot tub that had aggressive bubbles shooting into my face and it made for a fairly comedic, less than relaxing experience.

Teeny tiny stairwells!

Teeny tiny stairwells!

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park was next on the itinerary. The boys enriched our cultural experience by pointing out many “watch towers” during the drive and providing us with numerous “facts” about Ireland. Touring around the castle was fascinating and the artifacts on display made it easy to imagine how it looked when people lived there hundreds of years ago. I could imagine the feasts and parties taking place in the banquet hall with people in beautiful hand stitched gowns and handsome jackets, drinking a little too much and dancing not hard enough. I pitied anyone living in the castle who might have been claustrophobic — the narrow stairwells would have been a daily living nightmare. The Folk Park was a lot of fun as well, and was a great historical glimpse of how life used to look in Ireland. I definitely recommend checking it out.

As for the rest of our getaway, what happens in Tipperary stays in Tipperary. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

So excited to see a castle!

So excited to see a castle!

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

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Inside a heritage house

Inside a heritage house

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Numb toes, rosy nose and a happy heart in Stockholm

I hate the cold, but visiting Stockholm, Sweden in the winter time was definitely worth temporarily losing the feeling in my toes. Stockholm is a gorgeous city — everything is clean and the sparkling snow covered buildings seem to be straight out of a Disney movie. The people who live there might as well be part of a movie set as well. Everywhere you look you’ll see tall, blonde, beautiful individuals. People are super stylish and just ooze cool. Swedish people seem to have it all figured out — everything is clean, functional, and trendy.

Model of Vasa

Model of Vasa

Some highlights of our trip include the Hop on Hop off bus tour through the city, a boat tour around the islands, excellent water pressure, and the fact there’s an H&M on every corner. We also visited the Vasa Museum which holds a real Viking ship. The Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in Stockholm in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961, and now it’s reconstructed and just hanging out in this building for you to visit. The museum has impressive detailed exhibitions and it’s worth spending a couple of hours there.

We stayed at City Backpackers and it is one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Cozy beds, iMac computers, great kitchen, and the best shower I’ve had in months.

And now on to the important things. Food.

The key to following a budget in Stockholm is not going out for food all of the time. We bought some groceries and made most of our meals in the hostel. It helped that the kitchen could’ve been an ad for IKEA. The grocery stores were in incredible! I think a persons groceries says a lot about a person, likewise grocery stores reflect a country’s culture as well. I could’ve spent hours browsing through all of the gourmet, organic options. The standard grocery store is similar to a Canadian gourmet, health food store but with a massive candy section. Swedish people seem to value good cuisine and health, but they also embrace their sweets. We spent 482kr (57euro) each on groceries for five days, and we ate very well.

We did eat out a few times, and I can definitely recommend a few good spots:

Cafe Brasco

This place had a very cool vibe, selling tasty treats and delicious coffee but also doubling as a video rental store. They even sold cute dog bones at the counter. Surrounded by locals, I grabbed a cappuccino for 29kr and a snack for 10kr.

Il Forno II

Another spot off the beaten tourist trail, this small Italian restaurant was excellent value. The friendly staff start you off with a big bowl of tangy cabbage salad to keep you munching while waiting for your meal. They have an impressive selection of pizzas, and one would be enough for two people. We each ordered a pizza thinking they were “personal” sized and we nearly ran out of table space. It cost me 75kr (9euro) for a massive vegetarian pizza.

Anigato Sushi

Delicious!! About 20euro for a salad, miso soup, tempura veg, and a plate of sushi. So. Good.

Coffee

In general, Stockholm has a good standard of coffee. Still not as high quality as Australia, but definitely better than Ireland. Drop Coffee is supposed to be the “best”, and it was worth checking out. Home of five out of twelve semifinalists in the Barista cup 2012, coffee is taken very seriously there and you’re guaranteed to receive a quality product. However, I enjoyed the coffee I had at Kaffeverket even more than my coffee from Drop. I preferred the bolder blend at Kaffeverket, and if you’re feeling hungry they had a very nice healthy selection of food to choose from.

Alcohol

We went out for drinks once, and it was incredibly expensive. It cost about 30euro for three vodka sodas. And imagine our surprise when we went to the liquor store at 4:30 on a Saturday and and found out that it had closed at 4:00, and wouldn’t be open till Monday. I think that Stockholm is much more of a daytime city, which is totally opposite to Dublin.

I loved everything about Stockholm and would go back in a heartbeat. The city has so much culture to offer and five days there just isn’t enough.

The hostel had skates that you could borrow!

The hostel had skates that you could borrow!

Yep.

Yep.

View from the boat.

View from the boat.

This guy is freaking out! (Figurines in the Vasa Museum)

This guy is freaking out! (Figurines in the Vasa Museum)

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Crossing things off the list

Bucket list, life goals, whatever you’d like to call it, my “Before 30” is a combination of ambitions, dreams, and slightly far fetched fantasy. Every time I read it I feel inspired and excited for all of the experiences that await me.

Seeing as I’m a bit of a globetrotter, a lot of items on my list are travel oriented. This year I plan to live out a lot of dreams, like visiting Burgundy Street in Madrid, experiencing cuisine in Italy, and delving into history in London. I’ve started the year off right, and can officially cross of four items.

26. Go to Ireland

I actually took this goal one step further and moved to Ireland. Now my goal is too see as many counties as possible and learn about complex Irish history. Ireland is a stunning country, and every time I’m outside of the city I feel like I’m in a movie.

34. Read 40 books for pleasure in a year

I read a LOT of books while I was in Canada for eight months, and I loved ever minute of it. Reading is like therapy to me and good writing inspires me. I crossed this one off the list when I finished reading Thirteen by Kelley Armstrong around Christmas time.

42. Work in a real Irish pub

Okay, so it’s not really a pub, but it’s a real Irish bar, with Irish colleagues and Irish customers, and we serve a lot of Guinness. I think it counts.

77. Visit Stockholm

I did a travel writing project on Stockholm, Sweden in third year at Western and I’ve desperately wanted to visit the city since then. I got to go for five days about a week ago and it was everything I hoped for. Beautiful buildings, beautiful landscape, beautiful people. I’ll get into the finer details in my next post, but for now I’ll just say I’m very glad Stockholm was on my list.

Not a bad start to the year, and who knows what I’ll cross off next. Maybe I’ll buy a coffee for the person in line behind me or eat chocolate in Belgium. Regardless, I have much to look forward to.