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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Numb toes, rosy nose and a happy heart in Stockholm

I hate the cold, but visiting Stockholm, Sweden 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.

The hostel had skates that you could borrow!

The hostel had skates that you could borrow!

Yep.

Yep.

View from the boat.

View from the boat.

This guy is freaking out! (Figurines in the Vasa Museum)

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 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:

Bewleys, Lemon Jelly, Cup, Carlisle’s, Clement & Pekoe

Overrated (from a strictly coffee standpoint)

Metro Cafe

Coco and Busyfeet

The Coffee Society

The Bald Barista (decent, but really shouldn’t be advertising themselves as “Dublin’s Best Coffee”.)

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!