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.

map-of-ireland

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

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Belgian bliss

I got the waffle from a waffle truck. The breeze carried the sweet smell of the dough, enticing me to find the truck and take a break from getting lost in Brussels. We ordered two waffles, each with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Belgian chocolate. We sat at the top of a set of stairs overlooking a park nestled in front of city landscapes. With the sun on my face and the soft sound of French style accordion music from a busker, I had the perfect setting for indulging in my first Belgian waffle. One bite of the dense, sugary waffle and I was ruined for any future non-Belgian waffle.  It was the best pastry I’ve ever had, and the ice cream and chocolate made the treat all the more delectable. There’s a reason why Belgian waffles are famous.

Bliss.

Bliss

I booked a trip to Brussels on a whim. There was a Ryanair sale so one day my friend and I sat down and booked three random trips. #44 on my Before 30 list (eat chocolate in Belgium) was reason enough to buy a 40 euro flight.

When we told people we were going to Brussels, a lot of our friends told us negative stories about their experiences in Belgium. I had a gut feeling I would still IMG_6922like Brussels, and I was right. Brussels is beautiful in so many ways – beautiful architecture, beautiful food, BEAUTIFUL men. I love Brussels.

Our flight was early Monday morning, which proved to be problematic because we had a friends farewell party Sunday night. Service industry staff tend to stay out late, so I opted for a no sleep option. After we hit up a couple of bars and had a little after party with some peanut butter toast, I went home, packed, showered, and grabbed a taxi to the airport as the sun rose.

What seemed like a good idea at the time quickly became slightly miserable. After catching a bus to a massive train station we had to find a tram to take us to the hostel. Combine extreme exhaustion, a pending hangover, and a complicated foreign language station and you can imagine how difficult it was for us to find our tram. We spent a lot of time looking pathetic which gave the Belgian people a chance to show us how nice they are. Multiple people asked us if we needed help and one person even walked us to the area we needed. The transit system in Brussels is very good once you figure out how it works, and even though all of the signs weren’t in English, we found it easy to find people that speak English.

After a much needed two hour snooze, we wandered around the city. We took the tram to Louise Station, an upscale area with storefronts sporting labels such as Versace and Vera Wang. As we waited for my friend Julie (who I lived with in Gold Coast and now lives in Brussels,) we had a chance to people watch. Brussels is very, very different from Dublin. From the areas we explored in the city centre, we found it to be a more peaceful city than Dublin. People speak more softly, everyone seems relaxed, and people have great style. Even our taxi driver looked like he could have been in a stylish magazine for  casual day wear.

Health and fitness seemed to be a cultural value. We noticed a lot of people jogging all over the city and restaurants advertised organic food. For a country that’s

All of the food!

All of the food!

known for its chocolate, beer, waffles and frites you’d expect to find an overweight population. We found the opposite to be true — on average people were healthy looking. Oh, and did I mention attractive? From my perspective, this city is doing its part with maintaining the tall, dark and handsome stereotype.

Brussels is small enough that we were able to see most of the city centre landmarks on foot. We spent the day getting lost and stumbling upon gorgeous buildings and sculptures. We ate beautiful French food and visited multiple chocolate shops, and let’s just say I crossed #44 off my list several times that day.

We also visited Delirium Cafe and tasted a few delicious fruit beers. Kriek is a cherry beer, and it is unbelievably delicious. My friend Iza hates beer, so much so that she had never even had a full beer and she’s in her 20s. She had two glasses of Kriek! Delirium had many beers to choose from, but you either had to choose from the menu or ask the bartender for a recommendation because the taps were blank. Normally beer is advertised on bar taps, and brands want the best display possible (for example, it’s best to be on the end of bar rather than nestled into the middle). The way Delirium is set up is a better experience for the consumer because if you’re chatting with the bartender or looking through the menu you’re more likely to pick a product that suits you rather than just choosing a pint of Heineken because it’s the first thing you see. In Belgium there is also a wide range of glass wear to pair with each beer and they pull pints differently. If you like beer, you’d be in heaven, and even if you don’t like beer I think there was something for everyone.

I loved Brussels, not because it’s a flashy, but because it’s quality. It’s been added to my list of dream cities to live in, and even inspired me to add something new to my Before 30 list — #97. Learn French.

Spot the waffle truck!

Spot the waffle truck!

Best. Waffle. Ever.

Best. Waffle. Ever.

Brussels is the capital of the European Union.

Brussels is the capital of the European Union.

Iza with her cherry beer!

Iza with her cherry beer!

Beautiful monument.

Beautiful monument.

Yes please.

Yes please.

"Welcome to my home!"

“Welcome to my home!”

IMG_6857

Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

Coconut beer served in a wooden bowl! Delicious.

#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.

#44: Eat chocolate in Belgium.