Part two: Crossing off the Counties – Clare and Sligo

An hour and a half later we were wandering around Bunratty Castle and Heritage Park. We climbed narrow staircases, posed on thrones, and toured the replica old village.

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From Bunratty we made our through the narrow, winding roads of County Clare. We stayed in a little village called Ennistymon. The Falls Hotel, perched on a hill with glorious steps leading up to it, had waterfalls and a stream out back and donkeys roaming around the front. We checked in and immediately made our way to the leisure centre. The outdoor jacuzzi was my favourite – surrounded by crisp air, tree branches, and a waterfall. As it lashed rain that night we crossed our fingers and prayed for sunshine for the following day.

The next morning we prepared for the day by overeating at the breakfast buffet – we needed our energy for hiking! As we drove to the Cliffs of Moher the sun broke through the clouds and decided to stay awhile.

Standing 214m (702 feet) at their highest point the Cliffs of Moher stretch for 8 kilometres (5 miles) along the Atlantic coast of County Clare in the west of Ireland. From the Cliffs of Moher on a clear day one can see the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, as well as the Twelve Pins and the Maum Turk mountains in Connemara, Loop Head to the south and the Dingle Peninsula and Blasket Islands in Kerry. O’Brien’s Tower stands near the highest point and has served as a viewing point for visitors for hundreds of years. (www.cliffsofmoher.ie)

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It was a view that I can’t imagine you would ever tire of. The grande vastness and sickening height made me feel minuscule, while simultaneously filling me with awe at how great our world is and an overwhelming sensation of gratefulness and respect. It is a profound privilege to experience the worlds wonders.

You may knows the Cliffs from Harry Potter or The Princess Bride. The Cliffs of Insanity is an accurate description! I made sure to stay far from the fence free edge and had to clasp on to my neighbour and look away while Steve kept inching closer and closer to “insanity”.

The Cliffs of Insanity!

The Cliffs of Insanity!

With all that fear and bewilderment we worked up an appetite so we headed back to the car park, looked up directions, and put the car in drive. Suddenly some German people started waving at us frantically and yelled at us to stop. “Your tire, it’s flat!” We all climbed out of the car and sure enough the tire is as flat as can be, can’t get any flatter. One tour bus driver hung around and gave us a few helpful hints while the lads changed the tire. The boys got the coat offs, busted out the jack, and  proceeded to change the tire in the middle of the car park. At least it wasn’t raining!

Afterwards we carried on to Doolin, the village famously know for the birthplace of Irish music. We had some tasty fish and image_7chips and the most perfect pint of Guinness I’ve ever had. We also found a man who specializes in tire repairs. It seemed that punctured tires is an incredibly common occurrence in Clare. We came back to Doolin that night to take in some trad music. There were six musicians, all ages, sitting in a booth jamming away. No singing, just the traditional Irish instruments.

The next day we dropped Steve off at the train station and carried on to Sligo. We planned a pit stop in Galway city where we got stuck in major traffic then finally had a quick stroll around. It was interesteing seeing the scenery change from Clare to Sligo, even noticing the differences in the old stone fences. Sligo town is surrounded by lovely mountains (or hills, as we’d call them in Canada). That night we met up with an old friend, Jimmy, who brought us for dinner and then later hosted us at his perfect little bar, Lillies. The following day we met Jimmy and he showed us around the town and gave us a bit of a history lesson. We managed to find the Anglican church that my great, great grandparents were married in.

The church in Sligo

The church in Sligo

Back in Dublin we prepared for a night out in search of live music. We started at The Odeon then wandered further in to town and turned up empty. We decided to swing by Sweeney’s to say hi to Steve. Appearance wise Sweeney’s is a bit of a dive music venue, but it’s incredibly popular and always full of every demographic you can imagine. Dad was instantly a legend for these people. Drunk lads would stumble up to him and make a fuss about his hat. One guy kept complimenting how well dad pulled it off. Another guy kept walking past him, then say something to his friend, then stare at him. This went on until he worked up the courage to ask my dad if he could wear his hat to pose for a picture. My dad said to him very seriously that he couldn’t run off with it, to which he adamantly reassured over and over that he would never, EVER, do such a thing. The moment he had the hat on his head his face lit up and he looked like the happiest person in the world. The guy and his friends then insisted on taking a picture with my dad, going on about how he was the sickest geezer ever. That’s pretty much the gist of my night out “clubbing” with my legend of a father.

Traveling provides perspective and a refreshing change in routine life. We had some hilarious moments along the way and the journey seemed to be over in the blink of an eye.

A quick stop in Galway

A quick stop in Galway

A perfect pint in Doolin

A perfect pint in Doolin

Bunratty folk park

Bunratty folk park

Sligo

Sligo

Siblings...

Siblings…

You may have won this one, but watch out!

You may have won this one, but watch out!

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Dad's birthday cake :)

Dad’s birthday cake 🙂

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That's a wrap.

That’s a wrap.

Part one: Davis family takes on Ireland

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

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

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

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

Dinner and Old Fashioned Canucks at the workplace

Dinner and Old Fashioned Canucks at the workplace

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

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

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

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

Good coffe, Dadios?

Good coffe, Dadios?

Looks like it!

Looks like it!

Guinness Factory

Guinness Factory

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Family channel advert

Family channel advert

St Patricks Cathedral

St Patricks Cathedral

Spot Isaac!

Spot Isaac!

St Patricks

St Patricks

My best "welcome" look

My best “welcome” look

Great site on my doorstep :)

Great site on my doorstep 🙂

 

Crossing off the Counties: Wicklow

My sister recently came to visit me. I hadn’t seen family for 17 months so I was ready to burst with excitement.  We only had a couple of days so I had to be wise in planning our adventure. We had one full day together in Dublin and one day to get out of the city and explore some emerald hills. I chose Wicklow because of its close proximity to Dublin and its many claims to fame. Boasting film locations for movies such as Braveheart and P.S I love you, it’s a must-see on anyones Irish tour. This was my third trip to Wicklow, and believe me, there’s a reason why it’s referred to as the Garden of Ireland.   After taking a taxi from my house to O’Connell Street out of fear of being late, we arrived right on time, 8:50am. We grabbed a quick and necessary coffee and proceeded to wait for Irish time, departing a half hour late. Because we were so timely, we managed to snag some seats fairly close to the front. With an upbeat Dublin tour guide and an excessive amount of excited American women we were on our merry way. Joe, our tour guide, went above and beyond the call of tour guidance. He sang classic Irish tunes (sans any musical accompaniment), attempted teaching the Americans how to say a few Gailec words, and provided us with information about every place we went. I had done a very similar day trip to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough when I first moved to Ireland but I took a lot more away from this tour.

sisters and sunshine

sisters and sunshine

We got lucky with the weather. As we crawled up the winding roads deeper into the Wicklow mountains the clouds cleared and the sun paid us a visit. When we stopped at

Ruth frolicking

Ruth frolicking

the Wicklow Gap (P.S. I love you filmpoint) we left our jackets in the bus and Ruth frolicked ahead to capture the perfect photograph. A few clouds hung between the mountains, so close it felt like if you reached out you could touch them. The lakes nestled between the green hills were perfect. Even with the robust character from Virginia squacking in the background the Wicklow Mountains felt calm. Peaceful.

We also went to the Monastic City in Glendalough where we saw the remains of the famous early Christian monastic settlement first established by St. Kevin in the 6th century. The monks abandoned the settlement centuries ago but many of their hand-built stone buildings are still standing. The monuments built by the monks gave us a glimpse of their way of life. I found that the ruins represent the passion and absolute dedication these people had for their beliefs system. The Round Tower, built by hand centuries ago, is about 30 metres high. I can only imagine how long and how many injuries it must’ve taken to accomplish such a project.

Monastic city

Monastic City

We finished the tour at the first ever Avoca store, an Irish staple, where we got to watch hand weavers in action. I was very impressed with the quickness and finnese required for handweaving, and was doubly impressed when shown the final product – beautiful multi coloured cashmere throws that make you want to veto clothes forever and just lie snuggled in those blankets all day.

The highlight of the trip was the fact that I got to experience Ireland, my current home, with someone I love from my permanent home. Spending time with family and traveling adventures are individual gifts. Getting the opportunity to do both at once is so incredible it turned me greedy. I want more.

Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters

Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters

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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.

Crossing off the counties together

Crossing off the counties together

The Abbey behind our hotel
The Abbey behind our hotel

blossoms and benches

This tree decided to share some of its beauty with the foot path.

This tree decided to share some of its beauty with the foot path.

Green leaves, pink blossoms, and flowering vines dancing across stone hedges. Dublin, spring looks good on you.

It’s been a very long winter. I spent so much time feeling cold that my only wish was for summer to arrive so I could finally warm up. I forgot about spring, the season that spoils us with beautiful growth and teases us with anticipation for great things.

The city is lit up in colour with flowers blooming in gardens, pots and trees. I also love the rogue wild flowers scattered across the grass where they shouldn’t be. I need to give myself extra time to walk everywhere because I always get distracted and smell the flowers. My latest addition to the soundtrack of my life is “Flowers in your hair” by the Lumineers since I’m constantly sticking flowers into my curls while humming the tune.

One of my favourite pass times is hanging out in a park, drinking coffee while sitting on a bench or journaling with my back against a tree. Here’s an inside scoop on the parks I frequent in Dublin:

Stephens Green

Stephens Green

Stephens Green

Yes, given its location right next to Grafton street it’s almost always bustling, but it’s still a park worth visiting. There are ducks and swans swimming in the pond, plenty of flower beds, benches, and a beautiful small bridge. There are also a few trees that have a PERFECT cove for you to nestle into. I love to grab a soya cap from Butler’s on Grafton Street and then relax in the park for a few minutes.

Mystery park on Long Lane

There’s a beautiful park just off of Long Lane, close to Camden Street, but I’m not sure what it’s called. It’s much quieter and smaller than Stephen’s Green, which makes it a great place to read a book. At this time of year the pink blossom trees are in their full glory and there are tulips and other flowers for you to enjoy.

Palmerston Park

Palmerston Park

Palmerston Park

Yesterday I discovered my new favourite park while getting lost looking for a gym that I’m sure doesn’t exist. As soon as I walked in I fell in love with it. It made me want a picnic immediately. It’s quiet, has great trees, and is full of tranquility. It is the perfect place to have a peaceful picnic while the day drifts away.

Spring puts joy in my heart, a lightness in my step, and flowers in my hair. It’s a good season.

Even the vines climbing sidewalk hedges deserve some attention.

Even the vines climbing sidewalk hedges deserve some attention.

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#76 – Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin

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

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

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

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

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

Green!

Green!

Facts:

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

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

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

ref. The Little Big Book of Ireland

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

I missed the ladder memo.

I missed the ladder memo.

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

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

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

Louise - prime example of friendly Irish people :)

Louise – prime example of friendly Irish people 🙂

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

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

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

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

I LOVE YOU IRISH COFFEE!

I LOVE YOU IRISH COFFEE!

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

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

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

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee time in Stockholm.

Coffee time in Stockholm.

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

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

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

The amazing Wicklow Gap.

The amazing Wicklow Gap.

Road trippin’

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 Tipperary stays in Tipperary. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

So excited to see a castle!

So excited to see a castle!

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

One of the room displays in Bunratty Castle

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Inside a heritage house

Inside a heritage house

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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.

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.

A lovely Irish Christmas with a wonderful family.

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.

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

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.

Nighttime view of the Christmas market outside of City Hall.

French pastry!

French pastry!

The little boy seemed to be in awe by the sight of all these tasty treats.

The little boy seemed to be in awe by the sight of all these tasty treats.

My Christmas baking. A little taste of Canadian Christmas :)

My Christmas baking. A little taste of Canadian Christmas 🙂