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.

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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.

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Good coffee, Dadios?

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Guinness Factory

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Family channel advert
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St Patricks Cathedral
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Spot Isaac!
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My best “welcome” look
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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.

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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.

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Crossing off the counties together The Abbey behind our hotel

Crossing off the Irish 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.

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Crossing off the counties together. The Abbey behind our hotel

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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.”

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A quick trip out to beautiful Ballybunion, Kerry
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Beach side sangria in Barcelona
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Rooftop terrace in London
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Reunited with UWO friends in Dublin
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Being a tourist in London
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Drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower
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Smorgasbord at dusk on a summer date
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Rodin’s “The Kiss” in Edinburgh
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Wandering through Paris with a best friend from Canada
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Embracing summer in Malta
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Hours spent in this chair during summer days
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Swimming in the Blue Lagoon
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Feast upon feast at home
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“Once” at the Gaiety
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My 2013 travel partner
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Surrounded by long grass, rolling hills and persistent wind
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Markets in London
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Picnics in the park
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Attending an orchestra performance
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Edinburgh romance
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First Christmas in my first studio apartment
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Countless good coffees
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Barcelona
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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 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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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#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.

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Our picnic

“Okay, pass me the Sancerre!” 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

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

 

Falling in love with 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 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 in love with Paris.

IMG_2534

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.

nil-castellvi-263968-unsplash

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.

Falling in love with Paris

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 Parisian buildings, the sounds from the locals wining and dining with trails of cigarette smoke wafting behind them. I was in love with Paris already. 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. 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.

yannis-papanastasopoulos-359327-unsplash.jpg

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. It was a little too easy to fall in love with Paris.

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.

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#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 — a 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.

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Our picnic

“Okay, pass me the Sancerre!” 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 it did in that first glass of wine. I may have already fallen in love with Paris, and after the rigamarole I was in love with that 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

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City landscapes
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The moment after I just finished saying I wished we had heard more French music, like the accordion. This is the face of a girl in love with Paris!

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.

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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.

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Spot the waffle truck!
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Best. Waffle. Ever.
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Brussels is the capital of the European Union.
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Iza with her cherry beer!
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Beautiful monument.
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Yes please.
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“Welcome to my home!”

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coconut beer
Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.
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#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.