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.

IMG_6925
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.

IMG_6921
Spot the waffle truck!
IMG_6924
Best. Waffle. Ever.
IMG_6915
Brussels is the capital of the European Union.
IMG_6867
Iza with her cherry beer!
IMG_6854
Beautiful monument.
IMG_6944
Yes please.
IMG_6896
“Welcome to my home!”

IMG_6857

coconut beer
Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.
IMG_2226
#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.
Advertisements

#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.

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 their 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.

IMG_2119
I LOVE YOU IRISH COFFEE!
IMG_2138
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.

IMG_1640
The amazing Wicklow Gap.

Road trippin’

Fodors-quote2

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 Tipp, stays in Tipp.

IMG_6587
So excited to see a castle!
IMG_6612
One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

IMG_6589

IMG_6653
Inside a heritage house

IMG_6678

IMG_6639

IMG_6663

IMG_6689

IMG_6642

Numb toes, rosy nose and a happy heart in Stockholm

I hate the cold, but visiting Stockholm 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.

IMG_6488
The hostel had skates that you could borrow!
IMG_6468
Yep.
IMG_6452
View from the boat.
IMG_6399
This guy is freaking out! (Figurines in the Vasa Museum)

IMG_6386

IMG_6364

IMG_6337

IMG_6381

IMG_6391

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.

How’s Howth?

IMG_1513
Welcome to Howth.

Howth, a suburb of Dublin, is an idealistic fisherman’s town at the north of Dublin Bay. I’ve never been to Newfoundland but I imagine it would look similar.

Howth lighthouse.
Howth lighthouse.

I'll take one in every colour, please.
I’ll take one in every colour, please.

There are old fishing boats in the harbour, multi-coloured house fronts along the esplanade, and houses atop hills over looking the sea. The smell of fish lingers in the air and there’s shop after shop selling all sorts of seafood.

Howth is only a train ride away from the Dublin city center and there are always lots of times to choose from. It’s a half hour trip and costs about six euro for a return ticket.

It’s a small, sleepy town with just the right amount of shops and cafes. If you feel like grabbing a quick bite and sitting by the sea, there are several places that offer fish and chips for takeaway. If you have a a little more time, there are restaurants with beautiful seafood dishes where you can stop in for some tapas and a bottle of wine. The first time I went to Howth it started to rain so my friend and I went to a small restaurant and sat on a bench by the window and watched the rain meet the sea. I had an incredible seafood paella and enjoyed every warm moment before heading back out to walk to the lighthouse. Sometimes on my day off I take the train to Howth to just grab a coffee, go for a walk, and pick up some fresh cod to make for dinner. Bliss, I know.

IMG_1476
Seafood paella by the seaside

Even if the forecast calls for sunshine it can rain at the drop of a coin so I always go prepared — rain coat, toque, and umbrella. Rain or shine, Howth is beautiful and well worth the visit.

IMG_1518
It’s fun to grab some fish and chips and sit by the water when the sun’s out.
IMG_1521
This little birdy hung out with me while I ate my fish and chips 🙂
IMG_5955
Fisherman’s boat, sans fisherman.
IMG_1492
This is me in Howth.