Travel

The Solvang Postcard

In the fall of my senior year of college—which as I type this I realize was nine years ago, YIKES—I studied abroad in Australia. While there, one of my absolute favorite things was to write and receive letters from friends and family back home.

I love mail in general, but being a whole continent away and receiving things from the people I loved back home not only made the first few weeks easier to adjust, but made the remaining five months all the more fun. I was practically a regular at the post office, and there was an entire drawer of my desk filled with envelopes, stamps, and handwritten letters that I still have to this day.

One that stood out was a postcard from my grandpa. “You’re not the only world traveler!” the note on the back started, “Grandma and I went to Denmark. Played golf & ate at Anderson’s Split Pea Soup Restaurant. Quite a trip – took 1hr & 15min each way. Saw lots of Danish shops & houses. Took 3 days so we were exhausted when we got home. Love you bunches – Gma & Gpa”

Maybe it was the startling opening of my grandparents being in “Denmark”, maybe it was the note explaining it had taken them one hour and 15 minutes to get there—from California—or maybe it was just because I hadn’t head of Solvang before, but I never forgot this postcard. It made me smile thinking about my grandma and grandpa on vacation, golfing and exploring this strange and—judging by the pictures on the front of the postcard—very cute town.

A few years later, after my grandma passed away, this postcard became even more sentimental. I felt like it was a tangible memory from their marriage and of the life they lived together—a little piece that they wanted to share with me, that I could have forever. And so just as I kept the postcard, I kept a constant curiosity about Solvang—wondering what it would feel like to stand where they stood all those years ago. And this past weekend, I finally got the chance.

To celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, our family of five spent the weekend in Solvang. We walked around and saw all the Danish shops and houses, we ate split pea soup at Anderson’s, and though we didn’t play golf, we did go wine tasting and feed some ostriches. (Yes, you read that right.)

We did Solvang our way, just as my grandma and grandpa had done it their way. And even though our trips were almost a decade apart, I still felt like they were right there with me. I still looked for the two of them walking down the street up ahead of me, and imagined them sharing split pea soup in the booth next to us.

Being where they had been made the postcard come to life, and caused it to hit me in a different way. It made me sad knowing that when my grandpa wrote that note to me, none of us had any idea we’d be losing grandma less than a year later. It made me wonder and worry about what might be coming in this decade to follow my own trip to Solvang. But then, it also made me think again about their trip. About the forethought they had to grab a postcard for me, one of their 11 grandkids and 3 great-grandchildren (at the time), and about how much that said about them and the love they had for each and everyone of us. It made me happy to think that they went on this trip and so many others, building their lives together and sharing it with us.

On our last day in Solvang, I grabbed a small, souvenir windmill that is now sitting on my desk. Maybe one day someone will ask me about it and I will pull out the postcard to explain where it all started. Maybe that will inspire another generation to take that trip, and as they walk down the streets and eat split pea soup they’ll look for me just as I looked for my grandma and grandpa, and just like that we’ll all be together again.

A Whole Lot of Oooooh-tah! (Day 3&4)

 August 22, 2020

There are some vacations that sit you in front of your suitcase each morning, agonizing over what to wear, wondering how fashionable you should go, how formal, how casual, how comfortable, how functional, whether you should bring a jacket, or an umbrella, or an extra pair of shoes. But my favorite part about a vacation that centers around nature, hiking, fishing, and just being outside, is that your outfit just has to go, and by that I mean it just has to move with you wherever you might go and support you in whatever you might do—including keeping you out of jail for indecent exposure. So when I woke up Saturday morning knowing I was headed into another day of adventuring, I slipped into another pair of leggings and a t-shirt, along with some tennis shoes, and I was ready to go.

Just after 9:30 a.m., we walked in the door of a gas station in Kamas, to try their infamously delicious donuts.  I picked out a sprinkle donut, and Natalee chose some sort of twist that was as big as her arm—because obviously.

Then we carried on to Mill Hollow to fish, where I took exactly three pictures, the last three pictures I would take the entire trip. (This still bums me out, but it also makes sense when you hear the rest.)

We fished for a couple hours, only managing to catch a couple, but the time went quick as we took in the lake and watched families enjoy their afternoons swimming, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking.

Around 12:00 p.m. we made the drive back home, where we planned to eat some lunch, rally, and make the most of our afternoon before we had to get back and get ready for our dinner reservation.

Thus, over some countertop sandwiches, we made this plan:

We would rent e-bikes from a park down the street, take the bike path downtown, and then walk around the shops for a little while.

I’d love to have pictures that accompany this plan and its unfolding, but I never took my phone out of my purse, because a) I was “being in the moment” and “looking at the scenery,” and (more accurately) b) I am a level 0 bike rider who was not prepared for the kick of an e-bike, thus I “rode” the bike path in the way a baby giraffe might walk.  I wobbled, I panicked, I spoke to the bike as if it were a person who might understand commands like “slow down”, and at one point, when a bump approached, my foot slipped off the pedal and it jammed into the back of my leg, which birthed a bruise I am still sporting two weeks later.

So it’s safe to say I won’t be signing up for the Tour de France any time soon.

But you gotta love a bike that does the work for you when you’re going uphill in high elevation. And in the end, we made it to town and were able to walk around and check out some awesome shops and boutiques, including Create Park City, which is a collection of work from local artists that I would highly recommend checking out if you’re ever in the area!

We then headed back to take some quick showers and head to Silver Star for dinner, where I ate my first ever elk burger, and drank two glasses of red wine, which eased the sting of the trip almost coming to a close, and made me forget about the bruise on my leg, which by morning would look like a dragon egg.

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August 23, 2020

On our final morning in Utah, I woke up to the familiar sun shining on my now familiar pillow under my now familiar blanket. It was all as it should be and had been for the last four days—though there was something else in the air too.

FEAR.

Sorry, I should have eased us into that.  I should have said, the sweet aroma of French toast being cooked downstairs for breakfast, or the ache of missing this trip and these people before we’d even left. But while those both hung in the air as well, sweetly and neatly, there was also fear.

Our plan for the day was to float the Weber River and I. Was. Terrified.

You see, similar to my skill level of riding bikes, my confidence level in water is low. Can I swim? Yes. Can I tread water if my life depends on it? Yes. Can I sit in a slow moving tube and confidently navigate small rapids without immediately assuming I’m on the verge of drowning? No.

And I have no good reason why.

I have no previous trauma involving water, especially not with a tube involved, but I have always been someone who just does better on land. If I go to the beach, I read on a towel in the sand. If I go to a pool, I wade in the shallow end. I like being on solid ground. So sitting in a tube with my legs up, unable to touch the ground, immediately sends off warning signs for me. Thus, what looks like a minor rapid to most, looks like a slide into the pits of doom to me.

I laughed out loud writing that. Both because it’s ridiculous and because it’s true.

There were about 10 of us in our group, and after we arrived at the entry point to the Weber River, we each put our tube in the water and tried to acclimate our legs to the temperature of the river. Then, on the count of three, we hopped into our tubes and started our float. And because water is a mischievous monster who can sense fear, my tube somehow caught a current that immediately sent me about a football field length ahead of everyone else.

So there I was. Alone. Floating. Shivering. Wondering if I had everything in order back home in case I drowned. I made friends with a man who was leisurely floating the river with his girlfriend, both of whom thought I was some bold, independent woman, when I was in fact a terrified baby who was gripping onto her tube as if it was my only source of oxygen.

Luckily, eventually, the group caught up to me, and when they did I gripped so hard onto the arm of a boy I’d just met earlier that day, that it had to look (and feel, I imagine) like I was trying to absorb some of his calm demeanor through my forearm a la the science of Space Jam.

In the two hours or so we floated the river, I never ended up falling out of my tube, which I consider a success, both for me and for anyone who might have had to witness me panicking as if I were being dragged underneath the rapids by Poseidon himself rather than just being bumped out of an inner tube in hip deep water. And while I can’t say I particularly loved the experience, as it just isn’t my thing, I was proud of myself for doing it. I’m also thankful for the random woman who applauded me at the finish, and for the hug I received from our friend Kelly. Both solidified the pride I felt and the assumption I had that my fear was as easy to read as my pale, white legs were easy to spot.

On the drive home, we stopped for burgers and fries, and then it was a quick shower and drive to the airport so that we could make our flight home. Sitting in the terminal, with damp hair, a bag of gummy worms I was eating underneath my mask, and a sweatshirt I’d just impulse bought in the gift shop sitting in my lap, I let the trip wash over me. While it had gone fast, I felt like we’d made the most of each day, which in turn made the trip feel long—in a good way. It had felt like a true breakaway from everything and it was hard to reconcile going back.

But now, even after being home for over two weeks, I can still look at the picture of our fishing spot and remember the peace and the space and I can reconnect to that moment of just relaxing and thinking about the good things the future might hold. And while I’m already ready for our next adventure, I don’t think I’ll forget this one anytime soon—both emotionally and physically, as I still have that bruise on my leg, and a bruise on both butt cheeks that a few sneaky rocks in the river gave me as souvenirs. #survivor.


Read Day 1 & 2 here.

A Whole Lot of Oooooh-tah! (Day 1&2)

Note: Throughout the entirety of this mini vacation all rules were followed, restrictions were taken seriously, and masks were worn when required, so please don’t come at me. I just want to tell you about a pretty place I went and how I ended up with bruises on both of my butt cheeks.

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August 20, 2020

After being picked up at the Salt Lake City airport late Wednesday night, I woke up on Thursday morning to a Park City sun shining on the pillow of a comfy bed, tucked under a warm blanket as a cool breeze came in through my open window. If you’re from Southern California (like me) or somewhere else where words like “breeze”, “blanket”, or “open window” are completely foreign and borderline triggering during this onslaught of August & September heat, you’ll know how much happiness these things brought to even the earliest moments of my day.

Having planned this trip to Utah over two months earlier, unsure of the potential travel restrictions or outside access we might have, my sister and I felt blessed to simply be somewhere other than our living room. Honestly, we would have embraced just sitting in a different living room if the laws prevented us from doing anything else. But, thankfully and mercifully, we were allowed to go exploring outside. Before we did that however, I did one of the inside things I’d wanted to do for oh. so. long.

I got a haircut.

Sitting in the chair at the salon, I asked the stylist to chop off the four or five inches that had grown down my shoulders since March. And as she went to work, talking on and off about the anxiety she was feeling about her daughter returning to school that morning, I couldn’t tell who was more excited about the haircut.

“Oh my gosh, this is happening, this is so exciting!” she said as my brown hair began to fall on the floor around me. I think it was therapeutic for both of us. I felt like I was chopping off the mop that quarantine built, and she was chopping at her anxiety snip by snip.

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Next on the agenda, we piled into the car and headed to Willow Heights Trail, which would not only serve as a welcome to Utah but a welcome to *elevation*. Having spent a good amount of time in elevation while training for Whitney, I was less nervous than I might have been otherwise, but that didn’t mean 8,000 feet didn’t make itself known.

Hello, it said, take your time.

And so we did.

After walking a mile or so to the lake at the top, we sat down on a few rocks to enjoy the lunches we packed. Within a few seconds however, a female duck and her eight ducklings came swimming and then charging up the bank towards us, squeaking and quacking and opening their beaks, waiting for us to toss them some scraps.

Were they cute? Yes.

Was it weird and strange and utterly delightful to be approached so closely by ducks? Yes.

But did it get old pretty fast, especially when they started pecking at our shoes and following us around in a way that suggested that at any minute they might go into attack mode and kill us? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT.

This is when they gave up on us and returned to the water to commence hiding in plain sight until their next victim arrived.

After our hike, we stopped in on a waterfall, and the headed to Normal Club ice cream to have our lives casually changed forever.

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To finish off the day, we headed to a spot on the Weber River to fish. And while we gave it our best effort, our perseverance, our sweat, and, in my case, a little bit of blood thanks to my biggest catch of the day being my own finger, all but one of us came up empty. But it’s hard to be mad when this is your view.

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August 21, 2020

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

It’s me, elevation!

First thing Friday morning we headed to the Uintas (pronounced you-in-tuhs) to hike Bald Mountain, which had a starting elevation of 10,500 feet. I felt a little nervous heading into the hike, wondering if perhaps my sea-level life was going to catch up to me eventually, but aside from a few friendly reminders from my lungs not to laugh too hard, talk too loud, or burst into occasional song as I like to do, the hike went relatively well. The trail was rocky, and at times felt like walking up a long flight of uneven stairs, but small steps—and for the faint of heart or fearing of heights, a close eye on the ground rather than the long way down—were the key. I got to the top feeling very accomplished, and a little mischievous. Which is perhaps why, alongside this photo of the view:

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I also took this picture, while saying, out loud, “my dad is going to hate this”:

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From Bald Mountain we drove to Trial Lake and set up camp on the muddy banks to spend the afternoon fishing. Feeling a little let down by the previous day’s success, I threw a line in without big expectations, and instead stared off into the distance and let myself think.

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Throughout the day we had been talking a lot about the future. What we want to do, and where we might want to live (other than California). And with everything going on in the world and in my own life, I felt like I hadn’t had time to consider questions like these in a long time. But with the quiet of the lake and the tangible space offered up by the trees and water and sky—not to mention the complete lack of cell service—I felt like I finally had the time. Not about what I had to do today or what I should do tomorrow, but what I was doing and how I was feeling in that very moment. It was almost overwhelming—having the freedom to just exist—and it stirred up a lot inside me that I hadn’t even known was there. It also brought back some of my luck. In the three or so hours we were there, I caught seven fish, including this guy, who is the prettiest fish I ever did catch.

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On the way home, we stopped at “The Notch” for dinner, where we ate burgers and sandwiches, had some wine and beer and Kentucky mules, and talked about the day, about some favorite memories, and about how small this great big world is sometimes. Then we drove back and went to bed early, all of us spent in the way only a good, full day can make you.


Read Day 3 & 4 here.

There is More

Since I have been lucky enough to continue going into the office for work, I am among the (far fewer) commuters in the morning and afternoon. And lately on my way home, I have been taking the freeway a few exits past my own, and then driving up and down the side streets around my neighborhood, just listening to music and decompressing. I like looking at the different houses—especially the front doors, I love a pop of color on a front door—and seeing which roads wind into each other, which ones dead end, and which go up into the hills.

I also like driving around and finding the little spots that hold memories for me, some good, some bad, some from over a decade ago, and some from only a few months before everything shut down.

I can drive down the street where the food trucks park on Friday nights, where my cousin once jogged down the very windy, cold street to get a churro for us to split before the cart closed.

I can drive past the pancake restaurant my friends and I use to eat at once a week in high school, before we spent the night driving around blasting music—sometimes with added choreography.

I can drive past the front lawn where I saw the boy I liked take prom pictures with another girl.

I can drive past the park where I ate cake with my best friend the week before she moved away.

I can drive past the house with the orange tree out front, where my grandparents use to live and my papa used to let me sit on his lap while he pulled into the driveway.

On some streets I can hear myself laughing so hard with my friends that I can’t breathe; on other streets I can feel the heaviness of a hard day and hear the sad songs carrying me home; and on some streets I think of a specific person, specific food, specific weather pattern or specific song for reasons I can’t remember anymore.

More than anything, the driving around reminds me that the world is still out there. It reminds me that I’m alive—that I’ve lived a life. And it gives me hope that I still have lots of life left to live.

There are more memories to make out there, more spots to claim pieces of my mind and my memory. There is more than what I see from inside my house, more than what I feel inside my own head, and more than what we hear on the news or social media. There is more out there and we will find it.

My Favorite Moments of 2019 (List-cember #9)

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it approximately 600,000 times: this year was busy!

But within the confines of our crazy calendar, there were so many good moments. And I don’t just mean big, fancy moments. Some of my favorite parts of this year were the small but meaningful bursts of joy. The cozy, perfect moments that I’ll undoubtedly be thinking about when that ball drops tomorrow at midnight.

For me, these were those moments:

1) Meeting Lyra

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I have long been afraid of holding babies. They are just so fragile and so perfect and so little, and the thought of holding something so important in my hands (especially when it is not even my something) has always terrified me. But in January of this year, one of my lifelong friends had a baby, and she encouraged me to overcome that fear when met her little one for the first time in the hospital. That moment inspired me to write this blog post and I will remember it forever.

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2) A Ball at Spring Training

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My family went to Spring Training in March for the first time this year (which you can read about here.) and easily one of my favorite parts of the trip and of the year was when my friend Mel, after trying for innings on end, got a baseball from one of the players. Not only was it a joyous celebration of perseverance, but the resulting footage includes a look of fuming jealousy from her neighboring fan, which makes for an all around perfect video.

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3) Finishing the Marathon

There are many moments of the marathon that I would deem “defining,” but perhaps my favorite was crossing that finish line and seeing my 6 foot 2 brother standing among the crowd. I was so proud and relieved to be finished, and seeing a familiar face to welcome me to the otherside of that journey was truly great.

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4) Mom Scores a Goal

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Some of the best memories I have of my family are the slow, ordinary days where we are just spending time together, which is why this moment from May stands out. My mom, sister and I had gone to visit my cousin Brittney and her family in Arkansas, and we spent one afternoon sitting outside, drawing in sidewalk chalk, and playing soccer. At one point we set up a challenge between my mom and my little cousin Landon. While Landon won in the end, the crowd (of me, Natalee, Brittney, and baby Nora) went wild for this goal scored by my mom.

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5) A Circular Celebration

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In June my family got the opportunity to go to Europe, and among the many jaw dropping, awe inspiring moments of that trip, was this one. My cousin Taryn (which, if you didn’t read the blog I wrote about our trip, is the whole reason we went) finished writing a long tedious essay that would complete her study abroad program, and we did what any family would do when they’re in England and about to head to dinner but need to take a moment or two to celebrate this accomplishment: we formed a circle around her and and jumped up and down, chanting, “We are proud of you, say we are proud of you! Hey! Hey! Hey!”

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6) That Eiffel Tower Sparkle

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Upon arriving in Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, my most prominent and low key embarrassing thought was, “oh my gosh, the Eiffel Tower is actually real.” It’s not that I thought we’d been lied to all this time, but the realization that I was really, truly seeing it in person was so unbelievable that I was having trouble accepting it all as reality. This shock and awe only multiplied as we sat on the grass in front of the tower and watched as the sun set, the tower glowed gold, and then started to sparkle.

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7) Axe throwing in Vegas

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For my brother’s 21st birthday, a group of us went to Vegas with a list of things we were looking to accomplish in order to properly celebrate his milestone. Among the items on that list was throwing axes. After almost an hour of learning and practicing, we decided  to document our newfound skills, and showcase our ability to hit the target. What makes this moment one of my favorites, is that the video recording is almost four minutes long, (three of which we fail miserably) but when we finally do all hit the target at once, we all threw our arms up and yelled, “first try!”

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8) You’ve Got Ice Cream

About two years ago, on a visit to Arkansas with my mom and sister, I discovered the magic of Blue Bell ice cream. Upon arriving home however, I was very disappointed to discover that it is not sold in California. But for my 29th birthday, I was floored to find a box from Blue Bell waiting for me. My parents had all of my favorite flavors (including the holy grail, Salted Caramel Cookie) shipped to me and it. was. EPIC.

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9) Pop the champagne

Last year my cousin Cory married my now cousin Amanda, and this year they were able to purchase their first house! I was so happy and honored to be there when they popped champagne in their living room, that at the time had little more than a table and some folding chairs, but is now a beautiful, cozy home.

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10) The Dodgers Take Game 3

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For a Dodger fan, the 2019 playoffs were rough to say the least. But before we had our hearts broken, we had our hopes up, and on the night of Game 3, me, my sister, my cousin Taryn, and my best friend Allison were walking into a concert at the Honda Center as the Dodgers entered the 7th inning. As we made our way to our seats, I was streaming the game through the TBS app on my phone, which I’d downloaded while waiting in line, and we asked multiple employees if they could turn on the game, all of whom turned us down. So as we went to the 8th inning and then the 9th, the four of us stood out in the hallway, crowded around my phone to watch us close out a victory.

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11) The Frozen North Lake

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In November, my family made one of our annual trips to Bishop to squeeze in a weekend of fishing before the season closed. On the Saturday of the weekend we were there, we parked our car and hiked in to one of our favorite fishing spots, only to find the lake frozen solid. While this obviously prevented us from fishing, it did little to deter our fun. We spent a solid half hour throwing loose pieces of ice onto the lake and watching them shatter and glide across its surface.

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12) Sending “The Hulk”

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On the same trip to Bishop, my brother, who is an avid rock climber, had his sights on a boulder at Happy Boulders known as “The Hulk.” After spending a few hours attempting the climb on Friday, he was determined to return, so on Sunday afternoon, me, him and my sister headed back to Happy Boulders on our way home, where we watched him try time and time again until he finally reached the top!

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13) Eli’s Last Game

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To cap off the year, at the beginning of this month my family took a whirlwind trip to New York to see our favorite football team (the New York Giants) play for the very first time at their home stadium. We went the week they played the Dolphins, which wound up being one of only 4 games we won this season, and on top of that, it was our longtime quarterback, Eli Manning’s, probable last game with the team. We couldn’t have picked a better game!

Note: Please leave all Giants hate at the door, thank you.

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14) Coming June 2020

At our annual family Cookie Baking day, my cousins Spenser and Ashlynn gave my grandpa (and all of us, really) a very special gift: the news that we have a new member coming in June 2020! On Christmas Day we found out that the little one is a boy, and while we already know his name, I’ve taken to calling him Meatball for now.

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15) Meeting Luca

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Since I started this list with a baby, it seems only logical for me to end this list with a baby! And in true bookend fashion, I got to meet one of my best friends’ new baby, Luca, just this past week, and even though he is handsome and perfect and practically impossible not to want to hold, it was still a big deal for me to do so without fear. And as I looked down at him and his big curious eyes, I couldn’t help but feel every good moment of the year capsize in this one moment. It was a busy year, but it was a good one. I got to do so many great things and love and be loved on by so many great people. I’m very thankful for the life I live and I feel so honored for the opportunity to live it.

Here’s to 2020, I hope it’s full of wonderful moments, big, small and everything in between. Happy New Year!

Goodbye Paris, Hello World (Our European Adventure: Day 10&11)

June 22nd, 2019:

It would take a long time for me to ever get used to sleeping in, yawning and looking out the window of my hotel room to see Paris, but with the warm welcome it had given us over the last two days, I looked out at the already sunny city, tipped my imaginary, bed head filled hat, and said good morning.

There were no concrete plans on the agenda today, just nine people ready to see the city and their iPhones ready to help them do it. So we set off from our hotel and walked down the streets of our new temporary neighborhood to O Coffee.

Since the group of us was so large and the restaurant was so small, we were met outside by the kind, Australian owner, who offered to take our order and prepare it for takeaway. We got five avocado toasts, four banana breads, a few coffees, a couple orange juices, and an apple juice, and then the owner threw in some madeleines for us to try. Everything was absolutely delicious and I could not recommend this place more.

As we ate, we came up with a plan:

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Starting at the Arc de Triomphe, we would walk down the Ave de Champs Elysees to do some shopping and sightseeing, and then follow the Seine River all the way up to Notre Dame. It was a three mile walk that we figured would be more like five when we added in browsing steps, but we were ready and the day was beautiful and so we finished our last bites of breakfast—and I spilled most of my apple juice—and then we were off.

The Arc de Triomphe is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Built to honor the lives lost in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, it is imposingly stunning. It is also the center of one of the scariest intersections I’ve ever seen in my life.

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The Champs Elysees reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Huge designer stores lined the street and they tempted you to come in and spend money you definitely didn’t have. At one point we walked into a Sephora that made me say, “I can’t believe we haven’t reached the back yet.” On top of that, the street was freckled with beautiful greenery, including this little patch that I actually volunteered to have my picture taken in.

The Grand Palais, while we didn’t go inside, was gorgeous and made me want to go to Rome, and the Petit Palais made us all laugh because the phrase “small palace” is one that both contradicts itself and doesn’t exist in our day-to-day vocabulary. If I ever make my way back to Paris, I will go inside these beautiful museums, but for this day, we fell in love just looking at them.

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The Pont des Artes, the “bridge of arts”, is most famously known for the love locks people used to clip to its chain link. In 2015, all of the locks were removed because they were too heavy for the bridge and were causing parts of it to crumble. This however, has not stopped people from clipping locks to other bridges. On our walk, we came across a bridge named the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, which has started to collect locks of its own.

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The Louvre was something my museum loving heart was over the moon to see in person. After seeing pictures of it and hearing references to it for my entire time as an undergraduate art student, actually finding myself in front of it’s famous pyramidal structure was pretty surreal. We didn’t go inside, but only because we decided to save that for the next morning when we could buy tickets in advanced and skip the lines. But since the courtyard was so pretty and the nearby restaurant, Le Café Marly, came so highly recommended, we decided to have lunch there.

I ordered what had become a favorite of mine in French cafes, a croque-madame, which is a fried ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. I didn’t take a picture of any that I ate, but to give you an idea of this true gift to humankind, please look at this photo from this recipe on foodnetwork.com:

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IMG_7494Sainte Chapelle was one of the only places that we took the time to stand in line and go inside to see, and I’m so glad that we did. I had heard that it was a beautiful church, but nothing really prepared me for how beautiful. We walked around on the first floor thinking it was amazing, but when we climbed the stairs to the second floor the line of us gasped in a row like dominoes. I was speechless.

Notre Dame, while tragically having been damaged in a fire not long before we arrived, was still gorgeous. Even as someone who doesn’t know nearly enough about its history and the grandeur that it has held in the city for so many years, my heart ached looking at the large pieces that were missing and the construction that was going on trying to repair it.

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As a final stop to cap off our day, we walked to Berthillon ice cream. It came recommended from a friend of my aunt’s, but it was clear when we got there that this was no well-kept secret. Multiple shops holding the same name were open mere meters from each other, and all of them had lines out the door. I got one scoop of dark chocolate and one scoop of salted caramel (because #saltedcaramelforever), and while they were delicious, I was bummed by the shop’s “no free samples” policy and I still think about the fig ice cream I left behind. #I’llneverfig-etyou

Now, I understand this next part might bring shame/judgment/open mouth gapes but I’m here to say that we did it, we don’t regret it, and we would 100% do it again.

That night, after getting back to our hotel and showering, napping and freshening up, we went…back to McDonalds for dinner. I know, I know, we’re in Paris, what are we doing at McDonalds two nights in a row? And to that I say: LIVING.

I will tell you right now, Parisian McDonalds is better than American McDonalds and there is absolutely no way you can change my mind. After having an iconic egg mcmuffin the night before, my sister and I both ordered the goat cheese chicken wrap and then I ordered a Kit Kat McFlurry. I mean, how dare you, Paris. How absolutely dare you.

We then walked back to Eif and took a seat on the lawn to watch him sparkle. Because what else can you do when you’ve had a wonderful day besides end it with a dose of pure magic?

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June 23rd, 2019:

For our very last day in Paris, we woke up a little early and immediately made our way back into the city.

Since we hadn’t truly experienced a Parisian sidewalk café, we took a seat at Café de la Comedie and took in the beautiful morning. My sister and I ordered the breakfast special which was the equivalent of the petit dejeuner we had in Epernay and I was in absolute bliss.

From breakfast we walked over to the Louvre, where I’d purchased nine tickets online the night before. NOW, listen carefully here because apparently this is a mistake that people make all the time.

In buying nine tickets, I apparently flagged us as being a “group”—as a note, this label is given to any amount of people greater than six—and as a group we were apparently required to be assigned a guide and were supposed to meet said guide in the “group reception area”. So when we got in line and our tickets didn’t work, we were sent to this area where a man behind a desk told me there were no guides and it would be impossible to get one and I should not have bought “group tickets” if I did not want a guide. Oh, and also my tickets were non-refundable and that he couldn’t do anything to help.

First of all, no.

Second of all, if this happens all the time, don’t you think that’s an issue you should deal with, Louvre?

Third of all, we’re in Paris, I paid good money for these tickets and I WILL be going inside.

Needless to say, after walking up and down the stairs a few times and talking to four or five different people, we were eventually let inside. And was it worth it? YES.

I was floored by both the art and the museum itself. Once I was in and amongst the work, my frustration with the (clearly poorly designed) website and the (not nearly as helpful or sympathetic as they could have been) staff, melted away. I also got to say hi to Mo, though she seemed a little busy with some other fans at the time.

From the Louvre we headed to lunch at an Australian café called Café Oz and it was…well, a conundrum you might say. The menu was a hodgepodge of options including burgers, risotto, and chicken parmesan—all of which we ordered by the way—and they had a picture of the All Blacks (the New Zealand national rugby team) on the wall, which is practically a sin in an Australian themed bar. Like I said, a conundrum.

For our very last night in Paris and the very last day of our trip, we decided to go out in style. We had 8:00 p.m. reservations on a Seine River Cruise and we’d paid €5 extra for front row seats—which was totally worth it! For an hour and a half we glided along the river, seeing the sights from a whole new angle, and seeing the people of Paris enjoying their evening as much as we were.

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We saw friends chatting and laughing and comforting one another. We saw couples sharing snacks and smiling and staring off into the setting sun. We saw people walking and running and biking and salsa dancing. We’d all had a different day, and yet we were all here, in Paris, watching the same sunset, so that we could wake up again tomorrow and start over.

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As sad as we were for our trip to be over, we were happy to be going home. It was going to feel good to be back in our own world, in our own homes, in our own beds and get back on our own schedules. But as we watched the Eiffel Tower light up for the final time that night, I took note of all of the people around me. Maybe some of them would be leaving tomorrow too. Maybe others had only just got here. Maybe others just moved here and others still had lived here their whole lives.

No matter our stories, no matter our backgrounds or our likes or dislikes, we were together in that moment and we were sharing the awe of the Eiffel Tower. And even if none us would ever see each other again, there was still something special about that moment. It was our own little piece of history that we’d always share. Just like our trip will be something that the nine of us will always share. In the grand scheme of things, these 11 days will be a blip, but to us they will mean the world. And at the end of the day, it’s about remembering those moments because those moments are the world.

 

 

When in France… (Our European Adventure: Day 8&9)

June 20th, 2019:

So, as you can probably imagine by now, THERE. WE. WERE.

Our suitcases were upstairs, tightly packed and (miraculously) zipped, and we had twin taxis scheduled to pick us up at 10:30 a.m. for our 1:15 p.m. train. We were headed to Paris and I was fully intending to have bread at every meal.

The prospect of taking what my sister began calling the “submarine train” from London to Paris was a little unnerving. But we were all excited and I couldn’t wait to see it in action…

…so naturally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, we were in Paris.

I’ll admit, this nap was a little more off putting than most. It’s one thing to wake up in another country, it’s a whole other thing to wake up in a country whose first language is not your own.

Our group waded through the crowds at the train station, trying to figure out where we could go to find information on where we should go. Then, after some thorough footwork by my dad and Aunt Tracy, and the help of a nice French man who spoke English, we all purchased metro tickets.

Now, I’m not here to start any arguments, but I will say that the Paris metro is, just, well, not as great as the tube in London. We packed our way in, trying not to run over any French feet with our suitcases, and kept our eye on the map, counting down the stops until our own.

Once we were off the metro and back above ground, we trekked through the streets of Paris in search of the Adagio, and when we arrived we were surprised to find we’d been given a room with THIS view:

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After the shock of that (kind of) wore off, food was obviously our next priority. So as soon as we were unpacked and freshened up, we were back out on the city streets, soaking in the Parisian sun with arms outstretched and smiles spread wide.

Le Pareloup came recommended by Google, and if I could recommend anything it would be the egg mayonnaise, which are hardboiled eggs cut in half with mayonnaise on top. YUM.

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After dinner, as the sun made its final descent into the horizon, we walked to the Eiffel Tower, which was only a mile or so from our hotel. On our way there, we stopped at a pop up pastry shop and ordered waffles and froyo, and then took a seat on the lawn and waited for the magic to start.

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Once the sun was officially down (at around 10:00 p.m.), the Eiffel Tower, who we immediately started calling “Eif”—because yes, we nickname everyone and everything—started to glow a deep yellowish orange We oohed and awed and took around 1000 pictures, and then settled in for part two.

Then the wind started to pick up.

Dressed in our sun soaking clothes, the breeze came as an unwelcome surprise. We began to bundle and huddle and pace, counting down the minutes until 11:00 p.m., when Eif would really shine. And though it was tough. Though we were shivering and chattering and all out whining for the time to just move faster, the moment that clock struck the hour and Eif started to sparkle, everything else kind of melted away.

We sat in stunned silence, all of our eyes reflecting the glistening lights and we smiled.

Oh my gosh, I thought to myself. This place, this tower, this city, it’s real. It’s real, I’m real and I’m here. I’m actually here.

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June 21st, 2019:

Our first morning in Paris started early. Making our way back to the train station, we grabbed a light breakfast at Starbucks and then boarded the train to Epernay.

Located in northern France, Epernay is known for its champagne houses, including Moet Chandon. My Uncle Bruce and Aunt Tracy are huge champagne drinkers and had long considered visiting Epernay a bucket list experience. So we’d booked a tasting tour with Moet Chandon at 4:45 p.m., but decided to get to Epernay early so we could take our time and explore the city beforehand.

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Our first stop was breakfast.

We found Le Khedive on our walk into the city from the train station, and upon taking a seat at a large table outside, our waiter placed this sign next to our table:

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The petit dejeuner, “breakfast”, consisted of a hot beverage (tea or coffee), a glass of orange juice, a croissant, and two pieces of bread with butter and jam. So, you know, basically everything good in life.

Almost everyone at our table ordered the petit dejeuner, and to go along with it, we ordered two bottles of champagne. Because you know what they say, “when in France, eat carbs and drink champagne—even if it’s 10:00 a.m.” And for the rest of the day, we did just that.

Time moved both slowly and quickly as we sauntered up and down the streets of Epernay, stopping in at different champagne houses for tastings.

We went to Collard Picard, where we sat on the back patio pretending we were sipping champagne in the countryside of France—oh wait, WE WERE.

We went to Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, where we divided into groups and ordered three, three glass tastings that each included detailed descriptions and specifically instructed tasting orders from the host, and after each round we would vote on our favorites and cheer when we liked the same thing.

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We went to Michel Gonet where we began talking a little louder and laughing a little easier and when we ordered a second round of tasters the host misunderstood it as seven bottles to purchase and we had to kindly decline his beautifully wrapped bottles of champagne.

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By the time we made it to lunch, we were all feeling champayHEYHEY, if you catch my drift, and we binge ate our food as if it was the last meal we’d ever be given in our lifetimes.

(in case you’re wondering what “champayheyhey” looks like)

From there, we headed to our 4:45 p.m. tour with Moet Chandon, where we got to learn a little history about the champagne industry that we’d been ever so supportive of during our day in Epernay. With two more samples there, we capped off our afternoon and walked back to the train station to board our train home.

Since the wind was blowing even harder that night, we decided to forego a visit to Eif, even though he was looking ever so handsome as we passed him in the Uber ride back to our hotel. Instead, we decided to close out our day of elegance and sophistication in the best way we knew how: ordering McDonalds for delivery.

As I sat in my sweatpants eating my Egg McMuffin at the table in our hotel room, looking out at our expansive view of the city, I thought to myself, damn, this is luxury. And then I ate one too many french fries, and went to bed.


Read Day 10 & 11 here.

Salted Caramel & the Buck (Our European Adventure: Day 6&7)

June 18th, 2019:

So there we were, boarding a plane in Ireland. It would be a short flight. Like, 10 hours shorter than our flight to Ireland and I was determined to soak in every minute.

So naturally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, we were in London.

My mom, sister and I had been to London before, but it was over 10 years ago and the only thing I remember is hiding in a red phone booth from the wind, and the time we all got separated on the tube and thought maybe we’d just be lost in London forever.

So while we weren’t a wealth of information on the city and its history, we did know how to handle the tube. We knew to move quickly and mind the gap, and we brought that wisdom to our group of nine as we boarded at Heathrow Airport.

For my dad and Uncle Bruce, the tube, while slightly overwhelming at first, was a welcome change to the high anxiety driving they’d been doing for the last five days. So when I showed them a screenshot of the directions to our hotel via maps and they realized they just had to sit back and relax, I think I visibly saw three or so years added back on to their life.

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Once we made it to our hotel, we checked our bags into the luggage room (because that is apparently a thing in hotels that I am just finding out about now?) and then headed to Nando’s.

If you are unfamiliar with Nando’s, it’s a South African restaurant chain (popular basically everywhere except the US) that specializes in Peri-Peri chicken. When we walked in, our waiter told us to pick our chicken, pick our spice level and pick our sides. Most of our group chose the Lemon & Herb spice level (I went with plain because #babytastebuds) and then our side selections included garlic bread, fries, roasted veggies and corn on the cob. It was all delicious and I miss it already. Unfortunately for my fellow US dwellers, as of now you can only find Nando’s in Chicago and DC. #nandNO.

Being a group on foot now, after finishing our lunch, we again pulled out our phones for directions, this time to some nearby landmarks. We were prepared to walk off our lunch—if only to earn an even bigger and better dinner.

Our first stop was Hyde Park.

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Having spent the last five days in Ireland, our awe-tolerance had gone up. We weren’t going to be impressed with just anything. But as we walked into Hyde Park, we couldn’t help but “wow” and “okay, beautiful” and “oh my gosh” our way through the expansive green gardens and scenic pathways.

At one point a man ran by us, seemingly on a casual afternoon run, and I audibly gasped, thinking, he gets to run through THIS every day? An average run for me consists of a high school, a Subway, and that one house with a really great tree.

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Nevertheless, we made our way through Hyde Park, stopping in at Kensington Palace, the Wellington Arch and Royal Albert Hall to take all the touristy pictures and make all the touristy comments. I apologize to anyone and everyone who might have overheard our terrible British accents. We were just trying to sound classy and charming and less, you know, DUDE than we do back home.

(Which you can tell we are nailing in this photo)

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Our ultimate destination of the day was Buckingham Palace, which we almost immediately started referring to as “the Buck.” I can’t tell you why, because I honestly don’t remember which one of us started saying it first. But I like to think it was our way of making the prospect of seeing such an iconic building more casual.

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Once we’d thoroughly exhausted our cameras in front of the Buck, we all suddenly became very aware at how tired we were. Unbeknownst to us and our touring ways, we’d walked a total of almost six miles and were desperately in need of a nap.

Vacation pro-tip: a perfect itinerary always leaves room for a nap.

So, we hopped back on the tube, officially checked into our hotel, and promptly crashed for about an hour.

Right around 7:00 p.m., we headed out in search of food and landed at Phoenix, where the food was delicious (I highly recommend the Chickpea burger!) and our drinks were even better (if you’re into sweet drinks, try a Strawberry Woo Woo—trust me.)

Afterward, we moseyed our way into Snowflake Luxury Gelato where we learned—and I can’t stress this enough—that Salted Caramel is the best and only flavor you should ever order, thank you and goodnight. (The thank you being for Snowflake Luxury Gelato for their gelato service, and the goodnight for every other gelato flavor because take a seat.)

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June 19th, 2019:

When planning our trip to Ireland, I spent a lot of time booking things in advanced. But when it came to London, our group decided to play a lot of things by ear. So as we ate breakfast at our hotel Wednesday morning, I was Googling possible plans for our day in between bites of a croissant and sips of a mimosa.

“Okay,” I said, holding my phone up to our group like it was a tri-fold presentation in a high school science class. “Picture this.

I then took them on a hypothetical journey of our possible day, complete with dramatic hand motions and an aptly timed announcer voice. When I received an overall enthusiastic nod of approval, we all stood up, got in a circle and did a youth soccer hands in! cheer to send us off.

Okay, so we didn’t do that last part, but honestly, we should have.

Being tube regulars now (or, you know three timers) we walked to our nearby station as casually as if it were the frozen yogurt place down the street from our house.

“Where are we headed first?” my dad asked.

“Harrods.”

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The department store giant that is Harrods was something that I’d only ever heard about and never thought I’d actually see. But now, having been there and spent a hefty amount of time walking around/getting lost inside the seemingly endless collection of shops, I understand why it’s a “you have to see it to believe it” type of places.

There was whiskey literally more expensive than my entire livelihood. There was champagne that shot confetti when you opened it. There were jackets and scarves and gloves so soft that I almost got emotional. But perhaps the most fascinating thing we found among the twists and turning of the Harrods hallways were these displays that allowed you to squeeze a rubber handle you might find on a perfume bottle and lower your nose to the mouth of what looked like a trumpet so you could smell whatever was displayed under the glass dome. My favorite was “leather glove.”

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From Harrods we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus, which is like the London equivalent of Times Square. People moved in seemingly every direction and cars and double decker buses drove in what I can only describe as complete chaos. We stared up at tall marquees and listened to a street performer sing Ed Sheeran and trick naïve tourists into thinking that Beyoncé was arriving shortly to perform “Perfect” alongside him.

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For lunch we ate at St. James Tavern, and then we got back on the move, navigating our way through the misty London day to Westminster Abbey. On our way there, as we were passing through Parliament Square, we noticed a long line of taxis, none of which were moving. Then, when the man in the first taxi started to move, every single taxi to follow began honking. Turns out, there was a full-blown taxi protest happening in front of Parliament. We would later learn (from our own taxi driver) it was in response to the rise of Uber and the damage it was doing to their business, and while I can’t make any comments on this since I don’t really have the grounds to, I can say that the protest itself was pretty badass.

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For our last site of the day, we got off the tube at Tower Hill to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We also had plans of seeing the Crown Jewels, but discovered the exhibit had closed a mere 15 minutes before we arrived. By that time however, nothing could get us down, because the sun had come out and was glistening off the River Thames, making our afternoon in the city absolutely beautiful.

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That night, we walked to Santorini—the Greek restaurant near our hotel, not the city 2,000 miles away—and if there was ever a time to say I miss a specific food, I can truly and honestly say I will dream about their fried feta rolls for the rest of my life. Cue that middle graduation song that makes everyone cry.

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Knowing it was our last night in London, we decided to go HARD…

…so we went back to the same gelato place because #saltedcaramelforever.

We then finished the night with a few drinks at the Beachcomber. And as we made our final walk back to our hotel, I was happy to commit all of the sites and sounds from the last two days to memory. In fact, as I glanced up and down the streets of what had become our temporary neighborhood, I imagined what it would be like to call this place home.

It’s a weird feeling to imagine yourself living and growing in a different city, different country, different continent than your own, but there’s something about falling in love with a new place that makes you think it might be possible. That’s not to say I got home and repacked my bags or start international job-hunting, but it was a good reminder of just how big our world is. There is so much to see, to learn and to experience. And in those new discoveries we find new pieces of ourselves. So should you ever get the chance to travel, be it one hour from your house or thousands of miles, go. See more. Do more. And learn. Always learn.


Read Day 8 & 9 here.

It Started with Whiskey and Ended McNasty (Our European Adventure: Day 4&5)

Sunday June 16th, 2019

On an average day I don’t usually have whiskey with my breakfast, but when you’re in Southern Ireland and there is a Jameson Distillery twenty minutes from your hotel, sometimes you find yourself having whiskey for breakfast. Which is why at around 11:30 a.m. our group found ourselves feeling pretty good on our walk down the street in Cork in search of food.

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We’d learned all about the whiskey making process, history, and future, and had been given three samplers of the most popular Scotch whiskey, American whiskey, and Irish whiskey (which won by a landslide) during our tour, as well as a free full size drink at the end of our tour (which motivated a healthy and thorough perusal of the gift shop) so were feeling lighter as we made our way down the street to find some lunch.

Once we finished lunch, we stepped out into some heavy rain, which, unbeknownst to us, was actually the equivalent of a drippy faucet when compared with what was to come.

We walked, hoods on, talking about where we might stop en route to Belfast, our final Ireland destination. And like any touristy millennial would do, once I was back in our car listening to the Irish rain fall, I googled “castles near me”—which, unfathomably, garnered results.

An hour north, we found Rock of Cashel. It was another incredible feat of architecture and history that simply left us speechless.

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In what might be considered the castle’s “backyard” was a cemetery with headstones both modest and extravagant. Perhaps our least favorite was this grave where it appeared the deceased was inching a little too close to risen.

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Maybe he heard about Chick-Fil-A and asked for once more chance.

The rest of our drive to Belfast, while long and tiring, will forever be defined by the absolutely torrential rain that (sinisterly) welcomed us into Northern Ireland. We all handled it differently: my dad white knuckling the steering wheel, me wide eyeing the road, my mom and sister rotating between nervous laughing and nervous NOT laughing, and my brother sleeping as soundly as he would on a cloud.

When we finally made our way inside Darcy’s—a restaurant my sister found mid-death storm—we undoubtedly looked like we’d been through, well a death storm. We were wet and cold and all nervously laughing in that way that said hey that was crazy, huh? I really and truly thought we were going to die. LOL am I right? Am I crying? Because I feel like I should be crying.

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Yes, hello, we’d like a round of Xanax, please. 

After dinner, we went back to our Airbnb, showered and then fell (bel)fast asleep shortly after.

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Monday June 17th, 2019:

One of my favorite sites in Ireland that is almost impossible to capture in pictures is Giant’s Causeway. (Check out this post to hear about the legend associated with this formation, it’s one of my favorites!) I think the same goes for a lot of natural formations around the world. They are those things you have to see, touch, exist in the same air with to truly appreciate, understand, and ultimately believe that they live in the same world as you.

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We were once again blessed with a beautiful day with the sun shining and some wind that almost (I dare say) felt good as we hiked our way to the top of the red trail to take in another spectacular view.

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As we walked, my mom and I decided that if this whole human thing didn’t work out, we’d gladly come back and live out our lives as Irish cows—the kind who are so cute the owners let them moo around and eat until they die peacefully at pasture, and who somehow communicate that they want their last meal to be Belgian waffles and popcorn…but it’s not weird because we’re just quirky Irish cows.

I mean, come on.

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Once we were successfully awed (and slightly wind blown) we made our way back inside, had a light lunch at the café, and then got on the road back to Belfast.

A great thing about our group of nine is that we are almost always on the same page about our desired touring mode. We all know when to separate and let each other soak in what needed to be soaked in, we have similar touring speeds, and we all agree that we don’t have to take a guided tour just because it is available.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a curious person who loves to learn and especially loves a fun fact to drop in the middle of random conversations, but oftentimes when it comes to museums, exhibits and points of interest, I like to take them at my own speed, ask my own questions and do my own research.

That being said, if there was one tour I wish we could have taken while in Northern Ireland, it would be the Londonderry walking tour that my sister and I took on our trip with Contiki. (I looked it up and you can find that tour here!) To be able to hear from a local about the dark history of the city, and see the optimism in his eyes about its future was absolutely moving.

Having that memory in the back of our minds, we made sure to stop at the Peace Wall that commemorates the struggles of the past (and sadly, still present) and the hopes for the future.

May peace find you, and may you spread it outward from there.

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Here’s a fun fact for you: the Titanic was built in Belfast.

Walking through the Titanic Museum, we learned all about the infamous “ship of dreams”, from it’s humble beginnings in the Harland & Wolff shipyard—which you can see from the museum—in 1909, to the expedition that led to the discovery of its wreck in 1985. It’s amazing how the story never seems to leave you. Even if you’ve seen the movies, read the articles and walked through exhibits like this one, the heartbreak just sticks with you, I think it always will.

From the museum we headed to Pug Ugly’s for dinner. It’s a wonderful establishment that provides you with everything you need on a menu: pizza, beer, macaroni and cheese, and a pug in a top hat. Some recommendations from our table include the Pesto Chicken Club Pizza, the Goat Cheese Fritters, the French Dip sandwich, and the Homemade Burger.

For our last stop of the evening, and our last evening in Ireland, we headed to the oh so intriguingly named pub Filthy McNasty’s. Being a Monday, it was open mic night, and even though our group spent most of our time singing questionable renditions of popular songs, we opted to stay seated and cheers the bravery of others. Then, after a couple rounds of drinks, we walked back to our Airbnb, all nine of us in tow and in harmony—because we were once again singing, probably too loudly for 12:00 a.m. on a Monday.

We were sad to be leaving Ireland. Heartbroken actually. But we were excited for the new cities and new adventures to come. So as we tucked ourselves in and said goodnight, we tried to memorize every detail of our trip thus far. Could the magic follow us across the sea? Here’s hoping.


Read Day 6 & 7 here.

Castles, Cliffs, and a Horse Named Peppy (Our European Adventure: Day 2&3)

Friday June 14th, 2019:

Upon meeting our Airbnb host Carmel the evening before, she gave us a rundown of the house she’d so graciously rented to us for the next two nights. She also gave us a guidebook of the area and pointed out some of her favorite things that we might want to add to our itinerary.

Waking the next morning, feeling only slightly disoriented by the fact that we were on vacation in Europe and not at home getting ready for work, our group made breakfast in the kitchen. Carmel had provided us with a wide variety of snacks, including waffles (that weren’t frozen?), fresh fruit, and something called “breakfast pudding” that none of us were brave enough to take out of the refrigerator.

Our first stop of the morning was Belvedere House Gardens & Park—a Mullingar locale that none of us had heard of but came highly recommended by Carmel.

The morning offered slightly cloudy skies and a chill in the air none of us were quite ready for, but we bundled up and headed out, my dad and Uncle Bruce taking the wheel and bravely setting off the on “wrong” side of road once again.

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Being a Friday morning, Belvedere House was not overly crowded, and we were able to saunter and explore at our own pace, flipping the hoods of our raincoats off and on as the rain came in spurts.

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We took a tour of the house, marveling at its architecture and grandeur, and then we walked the grounds and strolled through the fairy garden.

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Overall it was a very charming and welcome start to our day, and the perfect pit stop en route to the day’s main attraction: the Cliffs of Moher.

You know, these old things.

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We spent a good two hours here, blessed with a sunny sky and only periodic gusts of high wind that made my dad close his eyes and ask us to please stand at least 4 miles from the edge.

Among the many (hundreds?) (thousands?) of pictures we took, my sister and I made sure to get another hair by the Cliffs shot, paying homage to those we took a few years ago.

And I got to recreate one my of my favorite shots from our trip—this time with my brother in tow.

Quick sidenote: Can we talk about how tiny my hands look compared to his?

From the Cliffs of Moher, we headed to Galway, my cousin Taryn’s favorite city from her stay in Ireland, and she took us to her favorite pizza place (Mizzoni’s) and her favorite bar (The Skeff).

As we hung out and listened to live music from Vicaria Band, my sister and I introduced the gang to our favorite Irish born drink: Jameson and ginger ale, which aided in our table’s karaoke performances of Britney Spears, Tina Turner and Darius Rucker (among others).

The drive back to Mullingar, while a little long and dark, again landed us in a place to call home, and the group of us sat around the living room, sipping on nightcaps and laughing our way through the memories of the day. This was our last night in Mullingar, but Carmel and Fintan promised to send us off with a bang, and at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, that bang arrived in style.

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Saturday June 15th, 2019:

BANG.

Okay, so it wasn’t really a bang. It was more of a knock. Two or three of them. And then a call into the house: “Peppy and I are ready for ya!”

As you might (never) have guessed, Peppy was a horse, and Fintan ushered us outside to meet him, and take us on ride in the Peppy-drawn carriage.

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Pro tip: if you are ever given the opportunity to go on a carriage ride through the Irish countryside, say yes. There is truly no better way to start your morning.

After each family got a ride, we loaded back into our cars, waved goodbye to Carmel and Fintan (and Peppy) and got on the road to Cork.

Just under three hours later, we pulled into the parking lot at Blarney Castle.

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Now, Blarney Castle was a favorite from our last trip, mostly because of how beautiful both the castle and the grounds are, but also because of the undeniably funand for some, understandably terrifyingprospect of kissing the Blarney Stone to receive the “gift of the gab”. For a full recap of what that means, you can check out this post, but to keep it brief: you lie on the ground, have an Irish man help you more or less hang off a ledge at the top of the castle, and then kiss a thousand year old rock.

Legend says that after you kiss the rock you will be blessed with eloquent speaking abilities, though for anyone afraid of either heights or, more commonly I assume, being held over a ledge one hundred feet in the air, the sheer anticipation of kissing the rock can bring out profanity as eloquent as anything I’ve ever heard.

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To come down from the excitement/danger/fun/terror (depending on the person) we walked around the grounds, once again surprised by how beautiful everything is, though slowly getting used to the fact that Ireland is simply, consistently, even reliably beautiful. (Hear that, Irish tourism department? Reliably Beautiful. Call me.)

Our hotel for the night was the River Lee in Cork. While it was tough finding accommodations that fit a group of nine, or even a family of more than three, the River Lee was beautiful and we settled in nicely to three rooms, each with three single beds. (I found a great deal on Orbitz.com!)

We also enjoyed—one could argue too much—the hotel restaurant, where we spent a large chunk of time eating and eating and drinking and eating before heading out in search of one (or three) Irish pubs, where we spent the rest of the night drinking and drinking and laughing and dancing and singing our hearts out.

One request, Ireland pubs: play more Whitney Houston.

Other than that, you’re perfect.


Read Day 4 & 5 here.