My 22nd Birthday in Cork, Ireland

My 22nd Birthday in Cork, Ireland

I had a plan for what my 22nd birthday would be like; I would be sitting in a cozy pub on a windswept, lonely peninsula, listening to traditional Irish music and sipping a frothy half-pint of Guinness.

And what was my 22nd like in reality? Well it was in Ireland, but that’s where the comparison stops.

My birthday began at a middle-of-nowhere airport in Belgium. I took a stressful Ryanair flight to Dublin (is there any other kind of Ryanair flight?), made my way downtown and then boarded a five-hour bus ride to Cork. Cork is known as both the Real Capital of Ireland and as the country’s most food-centric city so I was excited.

Upon arriving I wandered the city with my unforgivably heavy backpack until I found a hostel. Apparently I’m way too cool for reservations these days.

River Lee. Cork, Ireland

Cork, Ireland

My first order of business was to check out the English Market, Cork’s well-known farmers market that Samantha Brown featured on her travel show. (Um… I swear I don’t get all of my travel advice from Sam, honest.)

I ended up buying some hearty soda bread, white cheddar and buttered eggs for dinner, though I wanted much more. Unfortunately food shopping gets a tad complicated when you perma-live in hostels.

Side comment – Is it just me or is Irish food nothing like English or Scottish food? Irish food is surprisingly delicious and artisanal: black pudding, smoked salmon, Dublin Bay scallops, hearty soda breads and Kerry Gold… who knew!

English Market. Cork, Ireland

English Market. Cork, Ireland

Soda bread

When I asked the hostel employees where I could find a pub in town with traditional Irish music, I was told, “You’re never going to find traditional music in Cork. You’re going to have to go to a little town for that.” I think I could hear my Irish music-obsessed heart break.

And then by way the magic of hostels, a group of guests formed, all in the pursuit of going out together that night. There were nine of us, and as the Brits might say, we were five froggies and four yanks.

We started off the night drinking and chatting at a lively pub. The nine of us were struggling to communicate through our Franco-anglo language barrier, but strangely enough we began speaking more easily with one another as the night went on. It seems that alcohol is the true universal language.

Pub

Guinness

Pub

After the pub we tried (and failed) to get into several clubs around town. Strangely enough, no one would let us in because two of the girls in our group were under 21. I thought that only happened in the puritanical U.S.!

So long story short, we ended up at the trashiest club I’ve ever been to, and that’s saying a lot. It was kind of like the Jersey Shore meets working-class Ireland if you can picture that.

Let me start out by saying that the club had a chess theme. As in the dance floor was a black and white chess set lined with 10-foot tall pawns, knights and castles, all illuminated by neon green lights. The music was so loud that I was concerned I would have permanent inner ear damage. And we actually saw a girl-on-girl, hair-pulling cat-fight on the dance floor. It was madness.

French guy

Club

So the moral of the story here? Sometimes you don’t get what you wish for, and that’s A-OK. My birthday didn’t involve craggy coastline and quaint cottages, but it did involve girl-on-girl cat-fights, Guinness and a birthday kiss from a cute French guy. And for your 22nd, I don’t think you can do much better than that.

Have you ever celebrated your birthday in Cork, Ireland? Was it as crazy as mine?

Why I’m Excited to Move to Paris (Later Today)

Why I’m Excited to Move to Paris (Later Today)

So I’m taking off for Paris… tonight, around 10 pm! I”m really excited but also nervous… What if the family doesn’t like me? What if I’m truly incapable of driving stick?

In other news I was featured on IAMPACKED.com! I shot this picture of my travel essentials which they then featured on their website. I truly cannot live without my Kindle and cameras, and now that I’ll be a Parisienne I will naturally need some red lipstick.

Side note – Isn’t my brand new EOS just gorgeous? Sigh.

Anyway, here are the reasons I’m excited to move to Paris. (Which I still can’t believe is happening.)

Excited to move to Paris

So here the stuff I’m incredibly excited about. I think this list says a lot about my priorities. (Cheap wine is so low just for appearance’s sake, I assure you.)

1. City life

Moving back to my quiet suburban town after four years in Chicago was a bit of a change. It turns out I’m just really not cut-out for suburban life. I hate malls, I can barely drive and I think being home alone in a house is scary… there are just too many entry points!

I’m excited to be able to walk to my morning latte and to take a cab home after a night out at the club. It’s just more of my natural habitat, shall we say.

2. Farmers Markets

Gibier

It’s wild game season in France, which means there will be lots of game meats like wild boar and pheasant, as well as fall produce like mushrooms, truffles and chestnuts. I’ve spent five summers in Europe but have never gone in any other season, so it will be exciting to see what fall, winter and spring have in store.

This winter will also be my first snow-free winter, knock on wood.

3. Cheap wine

Decent wine in the U.S. is at least $15 a bottle. In France you can buy a good wine for $5! That’s a huge plus.

4. French

I’m excited to take on a new language. For the past three summers I have been working in Paris and while I have learned some French, I never took it in school so I have a shaky foundation. When everyone back home says, “Oh, so you must be fluent!” I have to woefully shake my head. No longer!

While I’m apprehensive about going back to school (ugh… when will I be a grown-up again?), now it’s all in the name of a language I’m dying to speak! (And only six hours a week, which helps.)

5. Friends

Some of my very close friends live in Paris, and there are a few other people in Europe that I’m excited to see. I am also hoping to make lots of new friends, and am going to amp-up my networking. I even have plans to grab coffee with a few travel bloggers!

Overall I’m just happy to have a new start and to try something I’ve never done before…  living in Europe for nine months. I live for adventures and surprises so I can’t wait!

So what do you think about the reasons I’m excited to move to Paris? Good ones or not so much?

I would love comments if anyone has some tips on how to parallel park and drive stick. I truly do not know!

Taking on The Pink Palace, Corfu’s Infamous Party Hostel

Taking on The Pink Palace, Corfu’s Infamous Party Hostel

Warning: The following post contains mature themes and lots of Pink Palace Ouzo. Those related to me or under the age of 18 should not proceed. 

Solo female travel can be tricky, but solo female travel at a party hostel can be even trickier.

Walking into a club by yourself? Awkward. Walking into a club by yourself wearing a pink satin sheet that barely reaches your inner thighs? Mortifying. Please hand me a shot of ouzo immediately. (more…)

A Grand, Google-filled Weekend in Dublin’s Fair City

A Grand, Google-filled Weekend in Dublin’s Fair City

Strangely enough the story of my Dublin trip begins in Chicago. It all started when I met an Irish guy named David at a bar called the Irish Oak.

After a brief chat, David handed me his Google business card. While we never got together in Chicago, I sent him an email a few weeks before leaving for Dublin. The lesson here – hang on to business cards! Especially if they say Google on them.

Dublin pub

John Mulligan’s via Yelp. When I arrived in Dublin I called David, and he took me out for drinks at John Mulligan’s (and by drinks I mean Guinness, naturally).

 

David described Mulligan’s as an “old man’s pub” and told me that it was one of the last old-fashioned pubs in Ireland. I loved everything about it: the red-lacquered walls, the seasoned clientele, the sassy wall plaques and the fact that it was founded in 1782.

The next day I spent the bulk of my time at the beautiful and green Trinity College campus (why didn’t I apply there, seriously?)

Trinity College

I went there to see The Book of Kells, a religious manuscript that was created by Celtic monks more than a thousand years ago. According to Wikipedia, it  is widely regarded as “Ireland’s finest national treasure.”

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells via the Examiner

After seeing the book I highly agree. The book’s designs are so impossibly tiny they seem to have been painted by butterflies, and the script is raised and glossy as if it were nail polish. The admission price was 10 euros but it was totally worth it.

Molly Malone

I next happily stumbled upon the statue of Molly Malone. Don’t know her? She’s a famous fishmonger and prostitute who now lives on Grafton street. There’s even a song about her that is known as Dublin’s unofficial anthem.

Merrion Square

Per David’s recommendations, I headed to Merrion Square to see the famous Georgian doors. I snapped away like a wild-woman, determined to photograph every door in the square. I even asked an elderly gentleman who was retrieving the paper if his house was a museum. I shouldn’t be allowed in public. Merrion Square

Merrion Square David wrote me an email to meet him and his friends for dinner. On my walk to the outskirts of Dublin I stumbled upon a few pieces of interest, including more Georgian doors.

Dublin, Ireland I met David and his friends for a Guinness (question – why is Guinness drastically better in Ireland?) and then headed off to The Chop House for dinner.

Dublin

Scallops

The food was great. Like amazing. Like how-is-Ireland-not-a-huge-food-destination amazing. I ordered Dublin scallops with black pudding and the combination was Michelin-quailty genius. And it was reasonably priced – my dinner cost only 14 euros.

After dinner we met up with some more of David’s Google friends and pub and club-hopped for the rest of the night.

Dublin

Sometimes you should be a responsible, culture-focused traveler. And sometimes you should take blurry pictures and drink mojitos in an Irish club.

Dublin, Ireland

I want to thank David and all of his amazing friends for showing me the city over the weekend. It was so much fun hearing their stories and getting to know them, and getting a glimpse into what Dublin is really like.

Overall writing this makes me miss Dublin, and especially my beloved Ireland which I never tire of visiting. But I’ll be back. And I know a half-pint of Guinness is waiting for me.

Have you ever visited Dublin? Did you hang out in Merrion Square too?

Saturday Snapshot 3

Saturday Snapshot 3

So I have some big (and good) news! One – I received my au pair visa in record time and ended up buying my ticket to France yesterday. I will be leaving in 10 days and I am beyond excited.

Secondly, and please excuse the exclamation points – my dad surprised me with an early Christmas present, a Canon EOS Rebel T2i and telephoto lens! I’m such a lucky girl these days! The camera has almost twice the pixels of my old camera and is SO much faster. Not to mention the telephoto lens is so much fun to play with.

So back to the photos – these are the first shots I took with my new camera. The fall is so stunningly colorful around here so I just had to take some pictures.

I liked several that I took so please tell me, which is your favorite?

Photo 1
Cranbrook
I was taking a walk at Cranbrook and noticed all the beautiful leaves covering the forest floor. It’s funny how cameras can make you take in the details.

 

Photo 2

Cranbrook

I then looked up and loved how the dark boughs of the tree contrasted with the golden leaves. Ah, fall.

 

Photo 3

Cranbrook
Finally, these are two art students I spotted walking about a half-mile away. This new lens can do some serious creeping, right? It kind of makes me feel like a superspy. Or maybe a stalker, but superspy sounds way cooler.

 

So, which photo is your favorite? I would love to hear your comments below!

6 Lessons I Learned in the First 6 Weeks of Blogging

6 Lessons I Learned in the First 6 Weeks of Blogging

I started my blogging career with lofty expectations: I wanted to secure freelancing gigs, connect with industry experts and make enough money to buy a ticket to Thailand. Yeah.

What I discovered is that blogging is a slow-going process, and it takes time to build relationships and generate revenue (more on that later). Here is what blogging has taught me so far.

1. Blogging isn’t the writing you learned in school.

Blog posts are not the formulaic, joyless, five-paragraph essays you churned out in high school. You must hone your writing skills as well as develop your own (preferably humorous) voice.

Some of the biggest bloggers have very identifiable writing styles: David Lebovitz quips sarcastically, Everywherist pokes fun at herself and Nomadic Matt tells it like it is.

As I blog I have to remind myself to show more of my personality through my writing. Readers don’t want a list of tips, they want to hear your story and learn more about who you are. Bottom line? It’s a blog, not a guidebook.

2. Twitter is the best way to connect.

In the past two months I have gone from having two Twitter followers to more than 225. The New York Times Travel section retweeted one of my tweets, which resulted in lots of new followers and blog hits. GotSaga sent me an offer to publish an article on their site which I happily accepted.

I now understand why so many social media experts extol the benefits of Twitter; it is truly the best way to connect with other people in your industry, and to score anything from a job interview to a free lunch.

In my very, very limited experience, not all social media is effective up front. StumbleUpon hasn’t done anything for me yet, and my Google+ account lies untouched. And generating my Klout score (of 10!) was just discouraging.

3. Monetization is impossible, apparently.

Out of all topics related to blogging, blog monetization seems the most disputed. This blogger loves Google Adsense, this blogger hates it.

After an unsuccessful three-day stint with Google AdSense, I decided the ugly ads weren’t worth the meager income. I then began thinking about installing an advertising page. Private advertising doesn’t just fall into your inbox, apparently. And when will I start getting emails for these elusive sponsored posts?

4. There’s a lot of information out there, but it’s not all in the same place.

To blog well you have to boast competency in so many different areas: photography, photo editing, writing, internet marketing, social media, web design, SEO, site monetization, pitching and WordPress.

I have visited a variety of websites to develop these skills, including Improve Photography, SEOmoz and ShoutMeLoud. In addition to countless articles and blogs I have also read ProBlogger: Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income and Nomadic Matt’s e-book, How to Make Money with Your Travel Blog.

I found that while there are countless resources on the interwebs, you have to go looking for it. And despite the best efforts of many, there is no decisive guide to creating a successful travel blog.

 5. The blogging community is like a family.

Before starting a travel blog I thought that all bloggers were in competition with one other. I never dreamed of how connected and supportive the community actually is.

Most of the comments you will see on blogs are in fact made by other bloggers. It turns out most bloggers not only write prolifically, they also read voraciously. And the majority of bloggers I have reached out to have been so willing to give me much-needed advice.

6. WordPress is super confusing.

There’s a lot to know about WordPress, and it first it can be overwhelming. I found myself googling, “What’s an alt tag?” “What’s a hex code?”

After only six weeks of blogging, I have installed over 30 active WP plugins. This involved sending out lots of awkward emails to other bloggers along the likes of, Um, so what plugin did you use to install that cool scroll-bar social media thing on the left side of your website? Thanks! 

And after using a few blogging platforms, I’ve learned that WordPress is undoubtedly the way to go. But that doesn’t mean that it’s simple to use.

What did you learn from starting a blog?

Doors from Around the World

Doors from Around the World

It turns out that over the years I have amassed a sizable photo collection of doors, who knew! The doors are surprisingly very interesting and really reflect the countries in which I took them.

The post would be more aptly titled “anything you walk through”, considering the collection also includes lots of archways and gates. I cobbled this post together after I made the photo series Street Art from Around the World.

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