“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.

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The amazing Wicklow Gap.
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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 Tipp, stays in Tipp.

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

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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 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.

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The hostel had skates that you could borrow!
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Yep.
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View from the boat.
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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.

Mission impossible: finding the best coffee in Dublin

Coffee in Dublin can be summed up by one word: mediocre. I haven’t had many awful coffees, but I’ve only had a few “great” coffees. I was spoiled when I lived in Australia — coffee culture is really taking off in Brisbane, and I was able to enjoy a high standard of specialty coffee while living there. When I returned to Canada I couldn’t go back to percolated coffee, and was constantly disappointed by any espresso based drinks I ordered. In Canada, you have to be in the right city for good coffee. Toronto has a good coffee scene, but most Canadians are happy with a quick double-double from Timmies or a latte from Starbucks. I think it’s a reflection of culture. Canadians are business oriented and coffee to us is functional — it wakes you up and helps you get through the work day. Australia is big into day time culture, so people often treat going for coffee as a big part of their social life, therefore it’s a higher standard of coffee. I think the whole world knows that Ireland is a night time culture kind of city. Generally speaking, people go for pints here rather than coffee. That being said, Ireland is still a part of Europe, and Europeans are big into coffee. Cafes here are equipped with quality coffee machines and there are plenty of shops to choose from. I think the biggest problem is the lack of training here. Being a barista is almost a trade in Australia and people get paid fairly well in the service industry, whereas it’s not valued as much here in Ireland. You know coffee culture isn’t great when cafes advertise pictures of awful latte “art” on their front stoop.

Nevertheless, I have found some good coffee in Dublin. I have been gallivanting all over the city ever since I’ve arrived, and I have a few favourite spots and a couple of places to avoid.

1. 3FE

My flat white (Twisted Pepper location)
My flat white (Twisted Pepper location)

The “best” coffee that I’ve had here was from 3FE. Good barista, good blend, good presentation, organic milk, reasonable price. From Dublin’s standards, these guys are in a league of their own. There’s two locations — one in Dublin 2, one in Dublin 1 (both of which are too far to be my “local” shop). 3FE easily boasts the highest standard of coffee that I’ve had since I’ve been here. Don’t ask for soya milk because they don’t have it. They only make coffee the “right” way — no modifications.
You know a place is good when it’s known in the international coffee community. One of my friends in Brisbane owns One Drop (GREAT coffee) and he sent me 3FE’s webpage, and when I went to the “best” coffee shop in Stockholm (Drop) and told the barista I live in Dublin all he said was “3FE”. To be fair it isn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had, but it’s high quality and makes me extremely happy.

2. The Fumbally

A hipster haven, The Fumbally is a trendy shop with a cool ambiance. Wood furniture, big windows, social tables, and happy houseplants all make for a cool vibe. They make a great latte, but the one time I ordered a long black it was mediocre at best. They serve breakfast all day and try their best to use only organic ingredients.

3. Butlers Chocolate Cafe

Yes it’s a chain, but these guys make a great soya cappuccino. It’s a little bit more expensive (3.50 for a soya cap) but I find the coffee to be consistent no matter what location I’ve gone to throughout the city. The coffee they use has a  beautiful bold, chocolately taste, and goes especially well with soya milk. The best part of Butler’s though is the free chocolate with every drink order — I go for the 70% truffle or the double dark chocolate!

4. The Humble BeanIMG_1715

Great food, good cappuccino, cute cafe. I ordered a soya cap and she brought out a regular cap, which was delicious and had a pretty pattern. I was trying to avoid dairy though so I got her to bring me the soya coffee, which wasn’t nearly as good. It’s hard finding a barista that can heat soya milk properly.

5. Baxter and Green

Good takeaway coffee. Stronger taste. Delicious.

Honorable mentions:

Cup, Carlisle’s, Clement & Pekoe

Overrated (from a strictly coffee standpoint)

Metro Cafe

Coco and Busyfeet

The Coffee Society

The Bald Barista

Now I’m no coffee expert, and coffee that I like might be totally different from the person. I’m just a gal who REALLY loves coffee. I have many more cafes I need to try in Dublin, and if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!

Christmas in Ireland

Grafton Street at night.
Grafton Street at night.

I have now spent Christmas in three different countries — Canada, Australia, and Ireland. An Irish Christmas is comparable to Christmas in Canada in terms of food, traditions, and decorations. The main difference is that in Ireland it’s all about Christmas – there’s no “Happy Holidays” here. Being a predominantly Catholic country, people don’t worry about being offensive if they wish someone a happy Christmas, whereas Canada is an extremely multi-cultural country and it’s common for all of the different religious holidays to be celebrated.

I’m currently working as a floor supervisor at a new bar in Dublin, and spent most of my holidays making sure all of the Christmas party bookings ran smoothly. It was an extremely busy couple of weeks, and every Wednesday-Saturday you would find me running around like a crazy person with a clip board in one hand while the other hand held my earpiece in place as I tried desperately to understand my managers Irish accent through the static and pumping music. Let’s just say my adrenals took a beating.

Christmas Day itself was lovely. I spent it at one of my Irish friends house and her family made me feel right at home. We had turkey and ham on Christmas day as well as an assortment of vegetables, stuffing, TWO different kinds of potatoes, and a smorgasbord of dessert. After an intense month at work, curling up next to the fire with some traditional Christmas music playing in the background was exactly what I needed.

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A lovely Irish Christmas with a wonderful family.

There are a few interesting things that have made this Christmas different than any other that I’ve experienced. Here’s what made my Christmas uniquely “Irish.”

Christmas Jumpers

Once December rolls around you start seeing Christmas jumpers everywhere. There are the pretty snowflake jumpers, and then there are the obnoxious “ugly Christmas sweater” versions. In Canada, it’s very common to throw an “ugly Christmas sweater” party where everyone has to dress in the most tacky Christmas wear they can find. However, it’s always tricky to find Christmas jumpers. That is not the case over here. Every shop had Christmas jumpers, and there are even a few stores that literally just make Christmas jumpers. The 12 Pubs of Christmas (a pub crawl) is almost a rite of passage here. At first I found the phenomenon charming — in theory, getting dressed up in Christmas clothes and doing a pub crawl sounds grand, doesn’t it? The novelty quickly passed after dealing with messy, obnoxious drunks in blinking Christmas lights. I’ve never felt more like Scrooge than one Saturday night, mid-December, when I looked out at a sea of Christmas jumpers after mopping up someones dropped drink for the umpteenth time, and I thought to myself “I hate all of the Christmas jumpers.” Now, that thought really had nothing to do with “Christmas.” As Jamie Foxx would say, blame it on the alcohol.

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I don’t know these people (found the image on Google) but it’s a perfect example of the 12 Pubs.

Christmas Music

Since I’m working at a bar this year, I had the privilege of witnessing a bunch of inebriated individuals link arms, jump around, knock over my drink tray, and squeal along to the same Christmas songs. Every. Night. I spent last Christmas in Australia, where they don’t get nearly as in to Christmas as we do in Canada, so I was a little behind on the Christmas songs. They play all of the mainstream classics, like Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas” and “Jingle Bells.” One song that everyone goes absolutely nuts for is “Snow is Falling.” I hadn’t heard this song until this year, and I don’t know if it’s a European thing or if I was just out of the loop last year. Regardless, it’s so peppy that even when you’re sober amongst a ton of drunks you can’t help but have a bounce in your step. Sometimes I even catch myself clapping and inserting a sneaky spin or too. Then there’s the song that epitomizes Irish culture — “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues. When this Pogues song plays, the room transforms before your eyes. Suddenly everyone is your best friend, you chug your beer and throw your arms around the shoulders of the people next to you, your feet start dancing, and each person sings along at the top of their lungs. This is what I love most about Irish culture.

Christmas Markets

Playing "The First Noel"
Playing “The First Noel”

I was really hoping to visit Germany for the Christmas markets this year, but unfortunately I ran out of time. Thankfully, Ireland offers Christmas markets in nearly every major city. The Belfast Christmas markets have a good reputation, so one Sunday myself and a couple of friends jumped on the Aircoach to Belfast and spent the day indulging in Christmas goodies. We had mulled wine, gourmet cupcakes, Belgian chocolate, German sausage, and Italian pastry. I also found a lovely pair of knit mittens and my friends picked up some knitwear as well. Michael Buble’s Christmas album was playing and it was packed with family’s who were filled with excitement for the festive season. We finished off our day with a pint at a beer garden that was located in the center of the market. The Irish way, right?

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Facing the crowds at the market

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Nighttime view of the Christmas market outside of City Hall.
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French pastry!
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The little boy seemed to be in awe by the sight of all these tasty treats.
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My Christmas baking. A little taste of Canadian Christmas 🙂

How’s Howth?

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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.

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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.

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