Kiss Me I'm Irish

From one land of my ancestors to another.

Welcome to Ireland.

My long weekend to Dublin began at the crack of dawn
(make that before light)Thursday morning.
After hearing plenty of stories of the love for Irish from my grandma, I couldn’t wait to hear Irish accents, meet nice Irish people, and hit up some good ol’ pubs.

Not only did I travel solo from Florence, but I also had all of Thursday alone to explore, as I wasn’t meeting up with friends until Friday. Some think I was crazy for traveling alone, but I loved having a day by myself (and no, I did not get lost!)

It took only minutes after arrival for me to hear the great Irish accent and meet the nicest old man ever. I could probably write an entire blog entry about my taxi driver who not only is a world traveler (he has been to more places in the US than most Americans, how pitiful on our part), but told me everything to do in Dublin.

Although Dublin is a great city, it is just that… a large city. Knowing I had the entire weekend to immerse myself in Dublin, I immediately hoped on a train and headed to a small fishing port town thirty minutes outside of Dublin.

Howth was the name; it was breathtaking.

 Fishing boats, fresh fish markets, and sailboats cast gorgeous reflections in the still blue water. The sun was out and the afternoon enjoying the piers alone was absolutely refreshing.
 I felt like Hilary Swank’s character in P.S. I love you, only Gerard Butler never showed up to fall in love with me (darn!).

My favorite part of the day was walking the nearly two hour pebbly path up and through amazing cliffs
(my black leather boots were definitely not the proper footgear).  The view out to the blue sea was exactly what you see in images of Ireland, but like most sceneries, there is no comparison to the real deal. Standing about the cliffs and water I could feel the beauty all around.

Friday morning my friend Bryan and his friends (who are all studying in London) arrived, and the festivities began. Most of the weekend was spent in true Irish style.
Drinking that is.

A tour of the eight story Guinness Storehouse taught me more than I ever needed to know about the thick, dark Irish drink. My Irish ancestors are probably rolling over in their graves while I say this, but Guinness is not my drink. You could have caught me pouring my drink into the boys’ glasses as we drank at the top floor of the tour
 (a circular room with window walls, a 360 degree view over all of Dublin).

My educational experience continued Saturday when we visited the Jameson factory to learn all about the Irish whiskey (and you think I’m not learning at all while in Europe…). Lucky me, I got to be a taste tester comparing Jameson to Jack Daniels and a Scottish whisky. Lucky for everyone else, they got the amusement of my-oh-so funny shot face.

whiskey tasting diploma
(what a proud moment mom and dad...)

Irish pubs lived up to everything I expected. With its welcoming live Irish music and typical Irish pub décor, Temple Bar (one of the most famous pubs) was my favorite. There is nothing better than being able to enjoy conversation in a bar listening to great Irish music by some very talented voices.

Don’t worry mom and dad, I did more in Ireland than just drink. In addition to looking at artwork in the National Gallery and checking out the famous Trinity College, I visited two absolutely great churches — Christ’s Church and St. Patrick’s.

The later is by far the favorite church I have seen; I have never felt more connected than when in the church. The sand colored stones form high ceilings, intricate wood work makes the alter, and the detailed and colorful stained glass windows are mesmerizing. There was a simplicity in the Irish churches that made the feeling of the church different than those in Italy. The large frescos of biblical scenes and numerous images of the crucifix in Italian churches seems to me as though faith is being forced upon you. I did not feel this in Ireland.
The evening song I attended at St. Patrick’s was beautiful.   

All in all, Dublin was full of laughter and good times. Exploring more of Ireland (especially the South) is definitely high on my bucket list.

a bar since sometime in the 1800s,
that is a lot of beer

Take me back to the pubs now!



Pure Perfection

With the budding spring weather comes a greater love for Florence.

I didn’t know I could adore this city more than I have during the last few months, but the blue sky and rays of light are proving me wrong. Friday March, 18th may have just been the perfect day in Florencetown.

To repeat:

1.      Cross your fingers for blue sky and sunshine. Florence’s open piazzas, Arno River, and outdoor eateries are beautiful even peaking from beneath my umbrella. But after a week of rain, sunshine never felt better or looked better on the old Florentine buildings. Not to mention my arm was tired of holding that darn umbrella.

So it is crucial to repeat this perfect day—

Cross your fingers, hope for rays of sunshine.

2.      Perhaps this should preface the entire entry…
For an ideal day, you probably don’t want it to proceed
St. Patty’s Day. As much fun as the Irish Lion’s green beer was starting at noon, this perfect day may have started a tad smoother without it.
Nevertheless, not only was this perfect day a surprise
(they always are, you know that right?)
But St. Patty’s Day is my new favorite holiday.

so festive
Bring on the Chicago St. Patty’s Day Parade next year!

3.      When visiting any city I always wonder if those cliché city items—
Rome’s Trevi Fountain, Chareston’s haunted ghost tours, the top of the Sear’s (Willis) Tower— are actually worth it.
After all there is so much more to any culture than one thing. But whatever you do, art lover or not, visit Michelangelo’s David.

Mammoth not only in size but in presence as well, standing beneath the smooth, humanistic white marble statue is morphing. No picture can do justice to the veins in David’s hands nor his muscular stomach. How Michelangelo carved this out of one piece of stone is baffling.

Heck, I can barely draw a statue… with an eraser. Last time I checked, mistakes on marble don’t erase.

4. Gelato! Vanilla is my favorite (Don’t call me boring).

494 steps later..

5.      I’m a little ashamed to admit it took me a couple months to the top of the Duomo
(the gigantic domed church in Florence and the city’s most notable architectural wonder)
I mean it is one of the things most necessary to do when you visit Florence. I’m blaming the weather for the delay…

After climbing the 494 narrow steps to the top, I have no idea how the cupola (dome) was built in the early 1400s. Props to all the workers laying the bricks hundreds of feet in the air.

search and find, my apartment is somewhere in the picture...

Stepping out of the steep staircase onto the top of the dome is amazing— the beige tiled roofs and narrow streets weaving together to form a zigzagging pattern below.

6.      Piazza Michelangelo
is my favorite spot in Florence.

Located on the outskirts of the town, up on a hill, there is no place I would rather be on a nice day than sitting on the steps of the piazza watching the sun lower in the sky.  Atop the hill (kind of like the top of the Duomo) all of beautiful Florence can be seen. I love that I can point out my apartment from the stretch of amazing buildings.  

To make the day perfect, of course bring a bottle of wine and some great friends to sip on it with. When the sun sets the view is just as amazing— spots of lights illuminating the buildings and reflecting on the Arno river stretching into the distance.

6.      This perfect day wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Kakuya for a dragoon (huhhh..?)
My program has adopted this bar as the place to be to sip on a drink called dragoon, aka a strong beer. Most days the dark, cozy booths can be found occupied by someone from CAPA.
A lot of great night-out moments have been made here
(Sadly, there is only one place in the US that sells dragoons. Yes, we checked).

Well there you go, all the steps to repeat the perfect day in Florence.
Only I think this day with friends was so unexpectedly enjoyable that retracing the steps could never quite be the same.




Spring Break Spanish Style

Spring break 2011.
A ten day venture through Spain.
Filled with a crazy carnival, a relaxing bike ride, and some great paella, it was the perfect cross between a relaxing vacation and a typical college spring break.
With five friends sharing the adventure
(Jenna, Alex, Chelsey, Rachel, & Emmet)
and seeing many more friends along the way,
I couldn’t have asked for a better spring break.

Itinerary: Madrid, Seville, Cadiz, Barcelona, Mallorca

First Stop: Madrid

After a day filled with planes, trains, and automobiles we finally made to our first destination. We were greeted with the oh-so-nice weather of freezing cold rain, just what every person wants for spring break.

We would only be staying in Madrid for less than 24 hours. But in that time we managed to fit in tapas (twice, we love our food), seeing some of the sites, and we found some of the most unique shops.

I wish I could say I saw more of the city. Note to self, half a day is never enough time to explore. When we boarded the bus to Seville our fingers were crossed the sun would come out for the rest of our week.

Second Stop: Seville

Seeing pictures of the amazing cathedral and hearing only great things, Seville was the city I was most anxiously awaiting visiting. As we walked to the hostel, my expectations were instantly met (even trudging along a huge suitcase for 30 minutes. Whatever you do, travel light!).

Within the first afternoon of walking around the narrow and winding streets, seeing the massive cathedral, and meeting only friendly people, I could see that Seville would be the only other city besides Florence I would have studied. It was an instant love for the place.

Our hostel was called “Backpackers Inn Seville” and was more like a family house than a hostel—everyone was in the common area watching TV or in the kitchen cooking. The best part was the rooftop deck above where you could hear everyone sitting at wine bars or eating meals on the streets below.

Our night adventure was spent in Cadiz (you can read all about it below!), and after a struggle of getting ourselves out of bed the next morning we were off to explore more. An afternoon long guided tour showed us all the main attractions of the city paired with interesting stories you don’t commonly hear (like that Christopher Columbus had a love affair with Queen Isabella).  Our day wouldn’t be normal if it didn’t start to rain. Our umbrellas are getting quite the European tour.

The night was spent eating tapas at the most scrumptious restaurant and sipping on tinto de verano. True Spanish fashion. I love the idea of tapas, which are sort of like appetizers but you get a bunch of different ones for your meal (this place had great stuffed eggplant, pork, and fish). Tinto de verano is Sevilla’s version of sangria— a mixture of red wine and lemonade Fanta. Don’t worry, I’ll bring this Spanish tradition back home and make it for all of you!

Third Stop: Cadiz

Words cannot sum up the pure insanity that is Cadiz carnival. It is like Halloween on mega-steroids. Thousands of people crowding the streets of Cadiz, all dressed in crazy costumes, all extremely drunk, bands playing in the streets, everyone peeing in the alleyways (yes, peeing in the alleyways, everywhere). Not to mention the festivities lasted from ten at night until the wee hours of the morning.
A two hour bus ride from Seville, this carnival is not only attended by tons of people from that city but people from all over Spain. Carnivals are popular in all of Europe in the weeks leading up to lent, but I wasn’t close to prepared for the mayhem the night would bring.

Donning big genie pants (not the most original costumes compared to the chickens, ninjas, and everything in between roaming the streets of Cadiz), we boarded the bus and started the festivities the entire ride there.

cadiz costume
jenna, me, chels, emmet, alex, rach
Every alleyway and piazza was packed with thousands of drunk, costume clad people. Spanish food and baked potatoes were being sold all over (potatoes are very typical Spanish food, who would have known?). Glass bottles were underfoot everywhere and we were shoulder to shoulder with the thousands packed into the town.

A cultural experience for sure, I can’t think of anything comparable to Cadiz in the US. It was fun, but by six in the morning our bus couldn’t have shown up soon enough. And twelve hours after we departed, we made it home to Sevilla to see the sunrise as we made our way back to our hostel, exhausted.

Fourth Stop: Barcelona

My knowledge of Barcelona in one word: party. People from Barcelona would probably twinge at this idea, but being there are a million and one IU students studying there (obviously not a million, but lots and lots) and always talking about the clubs, that’s all I knew. However, my Monday night through Thursday morning stay was so much more!

Jenna and I were staying with our friend Andrea, who has an amazing and huge apartment she shares with three guys from Germany. As Andrea was being a student, Jenna and I had two wonderful days exploring the giant, metropolitan city. From seafood paella sitting by the ocean to seeing the beautifully distinct (sort of drip sandcastle looking) Sagrada Familia church by Gaudi.  

sagrada familia
so cool!

If you ever make it to Barcelona, you must see Parc Guell (designed by Gaudi as well). It was the location where Jenna and I had a picnic of wine, cheese, and bread as we looked out over all of Barcelona- until the city meets the Mediterranean. The sun came out for us in perfect timing, and we spent the afternoon taking in the unique architecture and people enjoying their day as well.  

Our time in Barcelona also included more tapas, whipping out our cooking skills to show the German roommates what true American burgers and fries taste like, bars with some British boys, and clubs with our IU friends.

Barcelona turned out to have way more to offer than just the clubs, and I loved every moment.  

beach view with jenna

Fifth & Final Stop: Mallorca

Note to all travelers: clubbing and 6:20 flights do not mix well
(genius lesson, right?). You ask how our group of six learned this? Jenna, Rachel, and I made our flight after getting in a cab at four in the morning… the other three did not. Oppsss. They did eventually make it, and I will be avoiding flights before the sun rises anytime in the near future.

The last three days of break were spent in pure relaxation. Mallorca is a beachy island off the eastern coast of Spain. In the summer it is the hot spot beach location for Spaniards and Germans as well. Off season is much emptier, filled mainly with bicycle training groups riding along the seaside (Little Five!).

The last stretch would be spent in a beach hotel versus a hostel. Even though the weather was (take a guess!)… raining for most of the three days, it was actually the perfect time to catch up on sleep, read, and relax. We did manage to get one day on the beach and watch a sunset with sangria. My favorite part, a bike ride along the beach: great views of the sun peaking through the clouds, mountains in the distance, and blue water.

Our days, like usual, were planned around where, when, and what we would eat. Our favorite part, the all inclusive breakfast with everything from Spanish omelets, to pastries, to fruit, to mimosas. From the looks of our ravenous eating, you’d think we hadn’t eaten in days.

Spring break Spanish style couldn’t have gone better. But as much as I loved the paella and sangria, I was ready to get back to Italian pizza and wine.

We were all in agreement on our travel home: we had missed our home away from home we call Florence.




French Fries, Waffles, Beer & Best Friends

Who would have thunk it?

The same three best friends that skipped around the swing set of Hillcrest Elementary School, shared haunted house birthday parties together, and gossiped about first crushes would be traveling Europe together
(not me!)

Destination: Brussels, Belgium.

I can honestly say I knew slim to none about Belgium before Lindsey said she wanted to travel there.  Belgium waffles were about all that came to mind (yummy, right?).
But not knowing what to expect is where all the adventure comes in.

The weekend of February 25th was the time of our adventure.
Filled with new friends and lots of wonderful unhealthy food,
 the weekend was better than I ever expected.

Rainy Brussels is the capital of Belgium— the country snuggled north of France and south of the Netherlands— was the perfect setting for a relaxing, fun weekend with the friends that have known me the longest.

After an interesting quest to find the apartment we were staying,
(Pisa should have taught me to know where I was going),
this trio finally found the apartment. Our accommodations for the weekend were at the apartment of a guy Kristen and Lindsey went to high school with.

A huge apartment for four guys, the deck on the roof was incredible. Even through the rainy clouds the view over Brussels was great. We drank Belgium beer, and we reminisced about high school.
(well they talked, I listened).

My first yummy, crispy French fry experience came at dinner which consisted of omelets, fries, and beer.  Our outing for the night was to a bar that has 2,000 different types of beer. No, I did not add an extra zero or two to that number. IU has a selection of about one beer— Keystone (aka nasty)— so that number seemed impossible. Must be a horrid decision for indecisive people.

My first drink out, however, was not beer. It was absinthe.
For those who have not had an absinthe shot in their life, which may be a lot of you since its illegal in the US, let me explain:
Over the lime green shot, you melt a sugar cube into the liquid through some crazy looking utensil. Once the flame burns out, you take the shot and follow it by eating a sugar cube.
Nobody warned me it A. burned and B. tasted like black licorice.

Lindsey, Kristen, the roommates and I were up hanging out and laughing until the wee hours of the morning until my trio cuddled into bed. The rainy weather didn’t stop us from exploring. And when I say rain, I mean pour. Typical Belgium weather from what I hear. How heinous, right? Besides some great architecture the main stops for the day involved food.
Melt-in-your-mouth Belgium chocolate, delicious waffles topped with whipped cream and chocolate, and more French fries.
Not sorry we like to eat.

only the healthiest foods while abroad :)

Traveling with such great friends was absolutely amazing. Having them in Florence with me is like having part of my family.

couldn't tell you why i'm standing so far away..
i must really like them?

When we are old and gray and thinking off all our crazy adventures together since elementary school, we will smile at our Brussels adventure.

 Much Love,