January Blues Causing Daydreams of a Tropical Oasis

On this cold January morning, just like a television ad enticing you to book a winter getaway, I found myself lost in a daydream of a hot and sunny day at the beach. I was thinking about the perfect day I spent at Helen’s Bay two years ago.

It was summertime and all anyone could talk about was the heat. For two weeks straight in July, the temperatures were reaching a steady 30 degrees! The weather reporters were receiving a lot of extra attention as news of a heat wave made headlines – promising record breaking temperatures. Since most people in Northern Ireland don’t have air conditioning in their cars or houses, the sudden intense heat was quite unbearable.

One morning during the heat wave, when it was already around 27 degrees Celsius, I woke up sweating under the sheets. The windows in my bedroom can be propped open with a metal latch and I opened them as widely as possible (unfortunately, it wasn’t very breezy and only succeeded in letting in the noise of the street and passing cars).

I was sitting on the couch, watching Friends, debating whether or not to go to the gym, when my friend called me and presented me with a much better option: a day at the beach.

If there’s one thing my friend knows me for, it’s that I’m a total sun worshipper. It’s not often you hear people talking about visiting Ireland and going to the beach (unless they’re braving freezing waters with wetsuits), so I was really pleased with my luck and exclaimed, “Hell yeah, let’s go!”

There is a small oasis of a beach in Bangor, County Down, just 10 miles outside the busy streets of Belfast city center. Around 11 o’clock in the morning, my friend pulled up in her little green car and we headed to the beach. It only takes about 20 minutes to get from Belfast to Helen’s Bay,  so we cranked up Radio 1 and started cruising.

Sometimes, a song can take you right back to a moment in time. I specifically remember the sweet summer tunes of Calvin Harris ft. Ellie Goulding’s “I Need Your Love” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” playing during that car journey.

Shortly afterwards, we reached our destination: Helen’s Bay. It’s a white sandy beach that’s also deceptively tropical looking; I thought I had somehow magically transported to Florida. The sun was shining, and there were loads of people sunbathing and playing in the water. We picked a spot and laid down our towels to enjoy the salty sea breeze and gorgeous day. We stayed on the beach until 7pm that night, sunbathing, eating ice-cream, wading in the water and climbing over the rocks.

Yet, as I was thoroughly enjoying this sun-soaked walk down memory lane, the car door suddenly opened: instantly, the rush of cold air pulled me out of my reverie. The blue water and white sand immediately disappeared. The rain and cold replaced them.

I was back to reality.

*Please check out Clapway.com to see more of my posts and lots of other interesting posts on the website related to travel and adventure.

http://clapway.com/2015/01/20/tropical-oasis-in-northern-ireland123/

Advertisements

5 Travel Resolutions for 2015

It’s officially time for resolutions season, but I’m not talking about join-a-gym-and-lose-weight kind of resolutions. I’m talking about realistic and motivating travel resolutions…which you have a much higher chance of actually keeping this year, anyway.

1. Find a travel buddy!
See if anyone in your circle would be up for jetsetting with you by asking your sister, brother, parent or good friend about where in the world they’ve been and where they’d like to go. Chances are you’ll get an enthusiastic response and just have to make it happen! Talk to them about plans for a city break or trip together before the year is over. It’ll put a good amount of pressure to work out a week or two that suits you both to go have some fun exploring a beautiful new place!

2. Save money.
If you have a particular destination (city, town, iconic landmark, etc) that you have been dying to see and just never have the time or the money to go see: scope out Expedia’s Bargain Fare’s. I’ve lucked out numerous times with this slightly risky purchase because you don’t know the number of stopovers or time of your flight until you buy it. But generally the flights are reasonable times and I’ve lucked out with nonstop flights! So pick a time of year that would suit your personal calendar and would also be a nice time of year (weather-wise) and start checking prices 6-8 months in advance! This will allow you to have an idea of the price range of the tickets to start saving up. Then, take the plunge 3-4 months before you want to go and book the tickets! This is a lot better than waiting until 3 weeks before departure when all the prices are jacked up and utterly un-affordable for you.

3. Do it alone.
If you can’t find a travel buddy (this definitely doesn’t mean you don’t have friends – it just means they’re all too busy to squeeze in a bit of travel fun), consider a solo trip! I know this is a daunting idea, to travel alone to a new place that probably doesn’t speak your language, but look upon it as a good challenge for yourself. It’ll boost your confidence and get you out of your comfort zone.

4. Hostel power.
Book into a hostel! Staying in a hostel is great for two huge reasons: first, it saves you a hella lot of money. Secondly, it is a great opportunity to meet people. Whether you are traveling with your buddy or solo, you can talk to fellow travelers at breakfast, chat to the person at the front desk and find out about day trips, pub crawls, etc and have a great time!

5. Save, save, save!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to set aside cash specifically for travel funds. Do you really need another sweater? Instead of randomly splurging on clothes and stuff, put that money towards a flight or ho(s)tel accommodation. You’ll be able to hop on board your flight to Barcelona (or wherever your dreaming of) much sooner and you’ll be much happier with the payoff.

Wishing you all the best for the New Year, and make 2015 your year of travel adventures and happiness!!

*I’m so excited to start off a productive new year becoming a contributor writer for Clapway! Please check out Clapway.com to see more of my posts and lots of other interesting posts on the website related to travel and adventure.

http://clapway.com/2015/01/02/five-travel-resolutions-2015/

 

Wanderlust Wednesday – London

London, England – December 2014

IMG_0196

The sparkling view is still stuck in my eyes from dazzling Christmas lights hung on every street down to the lamp post and the buzzing atmosphere of people on their own little path going about their daily business.  After a great week in London visiting my friend, I am seriously in love with this amazing city.

A week is not nearly enough time to see all that London has to offer but as this was my second time in the city I had already explored the touristy parts so I was keen to see the places where regular Londoners hang out. Practice makes perfect with changing lines during rush hour on the tube and I laughed at the sight of people pushing in just as the doors were closing. I explored on foot from Piccadilly to Trafalgar Square to the embankment and couldn’t help but stop by to see Big Ben. Walking down Victoria Street at lunchtime I found myself enveloped by well-dressed men and women from nearby offices. Weather wise it was a very cold week but the sun shone almost every day.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” –Samuel Johnson

Top 3 Favorite Moments:

1) Pub Crawl in Soho – The nightlife in London is without doubt the place to be on a Saturday night, but finding the hot spots is part of the fun. My friend and I checked out a few nice bars, some that were fancier and more expensive than others until we came across The Montague Pyke, which is a huge Wetherspoons pub with a cheery Christmasy atmosphere and well priced drinks! It was a great night!

2) After years of wanting to see the broadway musical, I got a discount ticket to see Wicked in the Apollo Victoria Theatre! The show was amazing and I was a very happy girl!

IMG_0266

3) Winter Wonderland – We headed to Hyde Park on the first of December so we could hang out in the Bavarian Village and start off the Christmas season the right way. The excitement on all our faces was unmissable as we got off the tube at Hyde Park Corner and walked to the entrance of Winter Wonderland and could see the archways of lights. Immediately everyone’s phones came out to take pictures. We found a great spot to drink our mulled cider next to a big fire pit and there was a really good live performer singing a mixture of old and current popular songs. Our dinner menu consisted of stopping randomly at food stalls to buy a nutella crepe, a pulled pork and stuffing bap, and a hot chocolate with a shot of Bailey’s. Yummmm.

IMG_0110IMG_0136IMG_0100IMG_0101

All I can say is, London… I’ll be back for you! 🙂

My Travel Bucket List

My Wanderlust List:

So I decided to make a list of my top destinations around the world that I NEED to see. I attempted to prioritize the list in order but it was way too hard, so I just singled out my top 3 places I hope to get to in the next two years. Would love to jet off tomorrow and begin my globetrotting but for now my wanderlustings will have to be on a part-time basis.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~Mark Twain

Tokyo

Singapore

Mexico

Argentina

Brazil

Canada

New Orleans

Las Vegas

Hawaii

South Africa

Prague

Edinburgh

Stockholm

Israel

Dubai

Portugal

Thailand

Greece

Ibiza

Amsterdam — trip planned for April 2015 🙂

#3 Australia

#2 Barcelona

#1 Italy  (particularly Rome, Venice & Naples)

___________________________________________________________

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” ~The Prophet Mohammed

And here’s a list of the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit already…

USA: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia

Northern Ireland: Belfast, Causeway Coast & Glens, Derry, Newry, Lurgan, Newcastle

England: London

Ireland: Dublin, Cork, Cobh, Wexford, Enniscorthy,Donegal, Carlingford, Omeath, Kilkenny, Glendalough

Germany: Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Cologne, Bonn, Heidelberg, Mainz, Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg

France: Paris

Irish Food and Cuisine

                 When you go to Ireland and Northern Ireland, the first thing you will notice is that the culture is definitely food oriented. Almost as soon as you walk into someone’s house, they offer you a cup of tea and something to eat. It makes you feel very welcome as you nibble on a chocolate bar and sip a nice cup of hot tea.

 Not only is the food here very tasty, but it is always fresh because it is produced locally. I’ve been making a conscious effort to go out running as often as possible in an effort to balance out all my excessive eating. (I’m seriously worried that I will gain 20 pounds in the next few months.) There is such a variety of food choices, ranging from traditional Irish meals, pub grub, fast food, to ordering Chinese and Indian takeaway. 

            Traditional Irish food includes: stew, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, lamb, bangers and mash, steak and kidney pie, sausage rolls, breakfast “fry”, blood pudding (made from pigs blood, barley and seasoning) and champ (mashed potatoes, scallions, butter and milk).

Bread is really popular and there are quite a few different types. Soda bread is a yeast free bread that is bought in “farls” rather than loaves. Potato bread, as the name suggests is made of mostly potato and a small amount of wheat.  Wheaten bread is made with whole wheat grains. I love bread — give me a pan loaf, farl or slice any day!

Everyday breakfast foods are similar to American breakfast foods. Cereal, pancakes, waffles, eggs and toast are all popular. My favorite breakfast food is a healthier option called Weetabix, which is a whole grain cereal, mixed with milk and warmed up. Although on the weekends I love when my Uncle makes a big “fry” for breakfast. In all seriousness, it is possibly my favorite food. A fry consists of sausages, bacon, eggs, soda bread and potato bread – all topped with HP brown sauce (which is something similar to A1 sauce in America.)

When heading out for fast food or a quick dinner on the weekends, most people eat fish and chips, chicken curry or stop by KFC, McDonalds or Burger King. I’ve noticed that anything American is really popular here. I find it amusing that TGI Friday’s is always busy because it’s considered the “go-to” for American food. Although, compared to how pizza in America is pretty much a staple, in Ireland pizza is eaten only once in a while!

Nando’s is an extremely popular Portuguese restaurant here in the UK and Ireland. It focuses on chicken recipes and different spices and levels of hotness. I went for dinner with my cousin last week and ordered a medium spicy chicken pita with spicy rice. I have to say, although the portion size is disappointing, I understand why it is such a successful and popular place to go and eat. The food was delicious! 

            Sunday dinner is an important weekly occurrence that is an ingrained part of the Irish culture. It usually is served earlier than normal dinner during the week, around 4-5pm. This big dinner usually consists of chicken, turkey or ham with mashed potatoes, stuffing, carrots, broccoli (or whatever type of vegetables you fancy) and gravy. I think it is a nice way for families to come together and enjoy a meal each week, especially with how hectic weekdays can be with school and work. Sunday dinners are usually home cooked, but are also served in restaurants and pubs (and are just as tasty!) 

            I saved the best for last. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget to mention the desserts and treats! Chocolate is my absolute weakness and my favorite chocolate bars are Bounty, Milky Bars, Toffee Crisps, Tunnocks Tea Cakes, Lion Bars, Mint Aero and I’m constantly trying new ones. The milk chocolate is to die for, and no offense to Milton Hershey but in my opinion, nothing beats Cadbury’s. The wide selection of chocolate bars in shops is actually unreal. Other popular desserts include: trifle (jello, with whipped cream and custard), cream buns, swiss rolls, shortbread cookies, German biscuits and more, usually served with tea, coffee or Irish coffee (coffee with whiskey and cream).     

            Sometimes it can gets a bit confusing when talking about food in Ireland. Although the Irish speak English, at times it can seem like a different language because of the accent and the fact that they call things different names than American-English. Here are just a few examples… the Irish call French fries, chips, but when Americans say chips, they mean potato chips, which the Irish call ‘crisps’. Ketchup is red sauce; Sprite is lemonade; a biscuit is a cookie; sambo is the Irish vernacular for sandwich… and the list goes on!

           Each day brings an opportunity to sample an Irish dish and treat your taste buds to something delicious! Just remember, everything in moderation. 😉 

Wanderlust Wednesday – Dublin

Dublin, Ireland – September 2014

Hello Wednesday Wanderlusters!

DSC00824

I’m finally getting the time to write about my short trip to Dublin for a week in mid-September. My friend and I hadn’t seen each other in over a year (since we live in different countries) and were keen to meet up. Dublin is a great city and we decided it was a good idea since we both knew the city well and we’d be able to go out for a few pints and catch up. We didn’t plan an itinerary because we figured we’d just explore the city on our terms, do a bit of sightseeing, shopping and just take it a day at a time.

I took the bus from Belfast and arrived in Dublin in two hours. It’s funny going from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, because things are quite different! The road signs changed from “miles per hour” to kilometers, and there was both English and Gaelic street signs. My friend’s flight landed just as I got dropped off at the Busaras. About 2pm we were squealing and hugging… finally REUNITED!

After a small amount of time spent gabbing in the middle of the bus station, we headed for the hostel we had booked online to get rid of our bags and grab some lunch. It was only a ten or fifteen minute walk from the Busaras to our hostel which was right in the city centre. The Temple Bar area was just a few steps away and down the street was O’Connell Street. I was nervous as we approached the front door after my last hostel experience in Paris last year which was grim. As soon as I saw the lobby I knew this hostel was a far cry better. We got the key to our four person dorm and took the elevator up. We were the first into the room so we got to pick which bunks we wanted. (Ahh… the simple things.) The room and bathroom was basic, but nice and clean. Cheap and cheerful!!

Satisfied with our new home for the week, we freshened up and hit the town. In contrast to the stereotype that it always rains in Ireland, the weather was sunny and around 21 degrees Celcius and stayed like that all week except for one day of sweater weather. Who could complain about that?

DSC00739

^ Here we are (unintentionally matching) standing on the bridge joining D’Olier Street and O’Connell Street, with the River Liffey behind us.

There’s an old Irish song about Dublin that goes, “In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone…” and it seems to have become a sort of unofficial anthem for Dublin. There is a statue of Molly Malone on Grafton Street, but she is just a fictional person. It really is a beautiful city, with so much history. I love the trademark colorful front doors of town houses leftover from the Georgian influence in the 18th century to signify “welcome” and that the owners had a bit of wealth. Walking up O’Connell Street is an amazing experience because, although nowadays it is commercialized with McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and such, the old post office built in 1818 is still there and it is beautiful. I’m not too sure about architectural designs, but it looks somewhat Greek due to the six columns and intricate detail carved at the top of the triangular shaped roof. Another sight that is hard to miss in Dublin is the large, silver spire. It is a strange design, made of stainless steel and to me, it just looks like a large pin randomly sticking into the air.

The nightlife in Dublin is pretty awesome. There is something going on every night in the Temple Bar area. We walked into the actual Temple Bar and were immediately surrounded by guys who were already well sauced. They were plopping straw hats randomly on people’s heads as a signal that it was their turn to dance. The bar was packed (as always) so we pushed our way up to the bar to order a pint of Guinness and pint of Bulmers. Slainte! The drinks were overpriced but the atmosphere was worth it. Live music is in every bar and outside on every corner along the cobblestone street known as the Temple Bar area. Buskers who surprisingly have actual talent sing traditional Irish songs and probably make a killing off all the delighted drunks walking past. Our night turned into a mini pub crawl as we explored the variety of drinking wells.

On Friday night we discovered that there was a club a few doors down from the hostel. The thudding of the music was a slight annoyance when trying to fall asleep at one in the morning, but guess where we ended up on Saturday night? 😉

My Favorite Moment:

My favorite moment of the trip was actually an entire day. We took a trip to Glendalough in County Wicklow. It cost only 25 Euros and was a fantastic day out. We left promptly at 8am on a bus packed with French, Spanish, Danish, American and German tourists. Our tour guide was a legit Dubliner who made the trip a lot of fun with his jokes. The first stop was Dunmore Caves, then Kilkenny Castle, through the Wicklow Gap passing the original “Hollywood” and finally arriving to the final destination, the beautiful Glendalough, which literally means Glen of Two Lakes. I was stunned by the beauty of the mountains and lakes and the sunny weather made it all the nicer. I only wish we could have stayed longer!

DSC00856

On our last day we went to Kilmainham Gaol (Jail) which is well known for holding many leaders of the Irish rebellions during the 19th century and for its “new” design to replace the previous jail in Dublin which was basically an overcrowded, cold, damp dungeon. It is an interesting place to visit because it doesn’t cost much and the tour takes you through the entire jail. It is one part fascinating and one part haunting to hear the stories about the actual people who were incarcerated. I can’t imagine how horrendous it must have been to be forced to take up residence in this chilly and depressing jail… I checked out the records of people who did time here and the petty crimes that people were incarcerated for are actually laughable. Children as young as seven were imprisoned for a week or two just for stealing bread! The jail has been featured in films like “The Italian Job”, “In the Name of the Father”, “Michael Collins”, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, the BBC series “Ripper Street” and U2’s 1982 music video for the song “A Celebration”.

DSC00916

After we escaped from Kilmainham, we found a pub to get some dinner in. Unfortunately, by the time we had arrived they had stopped serving food and were only supplying liquid dinner. So we went in search of somewhere else to eat and randomly chose a cosy little Italian restaurant that also served Irish food. My friend had her heart set on trying traditional Irish stew…

DSC00920

And the verdict was 10 out of 10! It was a nice end to a lovely week roaming around Dublin’s Fair City.

What’s the Craic?

So here’s the craic, I started off this blog two months ago feeling ambitious enough to think I’d be posting multiple blogs per week, and now I’m finding it almost impossible to find any time to write about my experiences so far. And then when I do sit down to write, I have a mental block about what to talk about because there is so much going on! My apologies. I’m trying to handle all the nitty gritty work that comes with moving to another country, as well as enjoy every minute of this huge change in my life… but I’m realizing more and more that it was a GREAT decision.

Everyday I’m surrounded by the people in Belfast who are speaking English, but at times it can seem like another language. There are so many slang words and the heavy Northern Irish accent can be a challenge to understand at times. In my opinion, the Northern Irish accent is hilarious and almost sing-songy due to the vocal inflection. I’m pretty used to hearing the accent because my parents are from Belfast and have an accent, but since I’ve been back I’ve realized how people from all over NI have accents that differ slightly depending on where they come from.

The common phrase, “What’s the craic?” is used as a greeting and is an equivalent to “what’s up?” In Irish, “craic” literally means “news”. It is important to note that over here, “craic” in no way refers to drugs! Way back when Ireland was struggling for independence, the prisoners used to speak as much as possible in Irish (Gaelic) to avoid being overheard and understand by the guards. When communicating messages and news from the “outside”, prisoners would ask “what’s the craic?” which is where the phrase came from. Craic can also be used to describe a good time or a bit of fun. My friends from Ireland will describe a night out as “great craic”.

There are a lot of other funny words that the Irish use. Some of my favorites include “nicking”, which means to steal; “wee buns”, which means easy or simple; “mates”, which means friends; “cuppa”, which means a cup of tea; and “wee”, which means small or little, but can be used to describe just about anything. Seriously, the word “wee” is used not as an adjective to describe the size of an item or person, but is often used as a term of endearment.

If I think it’s hard sometimes tuning my ear to the Irish accent, I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t speak English as their native tongue like some of my international friends I met during university. Many immigrants come to Northern Ireland and Ireland because they are such friendly and welcoming places but I imagine it must be . My German friends have told me that my American accent is very easy to understand because I speak much clearer and slower than the Irish. My friends from France have also agreed that the Irish accent is difficult to understand at times, mostly because of the rapidness of speech.

Not only do I have to pay attention to the Irish accent and speedy way of talking, but when writing my CV and emailing possible employers, I keep forgetting that British-English and American-English words sound the same but are spelled differently. Like “check” and “cheque”; “color” and “colour”; “defense” and “defence”; “splendor” and “splendour”; “favorite” and “favourite”; “center” and “centre” and lots more.

Like everything, it just takes a little time to get my mind adjusted and soon I’ll be used to all the lingo!

Cheers mates! 😉