Toasting 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris, France was a living dream.

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

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

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

#19. Attend an orchestra performance

#44. Eat chocolate in Belgium

#61. Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

#76. Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin

#77. Visit Stockholm

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

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

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

A quick trip out to beautiful Ballybunion, Kerry

A quick trip out to beautiful Ballybunion, Kerry

Beach side sangria in Barcelona

Beach side sangria in Barcelona

Rooftop terrace in London

Rooftop terrace in London

Reunited with UWO friends in Dublin

Reunited with UWO friends in Dublin

Being a tourist in London

Being a tourist in London

Drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower

Drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower

Smorgasbord at dusk on a summer date

Smorgasbord at dusk on a summer date

Rodin's "The Kiss"

Rodin’s “The Kiss” in Edinburgh

Wandering through Paris with a best friend from Canada

Wandering through Paris with a best friend from Canada

Embracing summer in Malta

Embracing summer in Malta

Hours spent in this chair during summer days

Hours spent in this chair during summer days

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

Feast upon feast at home

Feast upon feast at home

"Once" at the Gaiety

“Once” at the Gaiety

My 2013 travel partner

My 2013 travel partner

Surrounded by long grass, rolling hills and vicious wind

Surrounded by long grass, rolling hills and persistent wind

Markets in London

Markets in London

Picnics in the park

Picnics in the park

Attending an orchestra performance

Attending an orchestra performance

Edinburgh romance

Edinburgh romance

First Christmas in my first studio apartment

First Christmas in my first studio apartment

Countless good coffees

Countless good coffees

Barcelona

Barcelona

2013, thank you.

Cheers, 2013. It’s been a slice.

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Pulling heartstrings in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

Maddie hanging by the Seine River

Maddie hanging by the Seine River

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

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

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

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

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

#44 - Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

#61 – Drink wine under the Eiffel Tower

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

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

Our picnic

Our picnic

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

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

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

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Outside of the Louvre

Outside of the Louvre

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City landscapes

City landscapes

The last supper!

The last supper!

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

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