Category: Places

What to See and Do in Dublin

Dublin is one of my favourite cities in the world. It is the first place I moved to as a wee wanderluster and is truly a gem. With an irresistible mix of history, craic (re: fun), and music, I guarantee you’ll wish you had more time in this spirited city.

If it’s your first time visiting Dublin, I can’t express how excited for and jealous of you I am! Here are a few spots to wet your whistle, mosey around, and fall under the enchantment of the Emerald Isle’s capital city (sorry Cork!).

Relaxation

After any flight it’s an event just to stretch your legs, breathe fresh air, and share more than a hair’s distance between you and other humans. Luckily, Dublin is a quick and cost-effective city bus ride from the airport. If you’re heading into the city centre, the #41, #700, #747, and #16 all take you to O’Connell Street Upper. Once in town, you’ll be greeted with plenty of seaside, park, and city areas to relax.

St Stephen’s Green

http://www.ststephensgreenpark.ie/

Like many sites in Ireland, St. Stephen’s Green has a long and winding past. From humble beginnings near a leper hospital, to feeding grounds for livestock, to transforming into a new neighbourhood park, to restrictive entry gardens, to re-emerging as a public space (thank you Sir Arthur Guinness!), The Green is more than just a pretty place.

Today, St. Stephen’s Green is a vibrant 22-acre park at the top of Grafton Street. Dublin’s offices empty on rare sunny days and the park transforms into prime real estate. Pale parched skin blankets the grassy beach, hungry for their Vitamin D transfusions. Don’t wait for sunny days to visit. Even on a cloudy day, St. Stephen’s Green is a beautiful area to walk around, sit, read, feed the swans, or people watch.

Entertainment & Shopping

Grafton Street

http://graftonstreet.ie

Dublin’s Grafton Street is a constant hub of energy. Some days I would walk along it just to people watch. Talented buskers reliably pepper the rose brick street, and the crowds can be equally entertaining to take in.

When I first moved to Dublin there was one young guy with a drum kit made entirely of recycled items – and could he play! There was also the fire-swallowing-hoola-hoop-tumbling Santa Claus, the gravity-defying statues, intricate sand sculptures, and a feast of other interesting sights to entertain and amuse the crowds.

Grafton Street is a narrow walking and shopping street on the south side of the Liffey that connects the bustle of the city centre with the calm of St. Stephen’s Green. It’s where you can melt in the decadence of Butlers Chocolate, stock up your home at Argos, inhale the rich history of Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room, savour the spot where James Joyce once mused in Bewley’s Oriental Cafe, or partake in the magic of Christmas Eve where the likes of Glen Hansard, Bono, Imelda May, and Damien Rice have caroled under twinkling lights. Or you can shop…though you might as well take in the sights while you do!

Dublin's Grafton Street Fire Santa

Pubs

Whelan’s

http://www.whelanslive.com/

If you live for live music like I do, it’s imperative you pay a visit to the man at the bar in Whelan’s while in Dublin (you’ll know who I’m talking about when you arrive). This establishment may or may not have been partially responsible for a lively night out prior to an international flight, which was subsequently missed…but let that be a testament to the craic and quality of the acts that command its stages.

O’Donoghue’s

http://www.odonoghues.ie/music.htm

On Merrion Row there’s a gem of a local where your ears will burst sunshine and rainbows. It sounds corny, but cross my heart, it’s the truth. O’Donoghue’s holds trad (short for “traditional”) music sessions every night of the week. Every. Night! Where else could you possibly want to be after learning that gold nugget of insider information?

Musicians of all ages gather to play at O’Donoghue’s – local musicians, famous musicians, old musicians, and young musicians. If I move to Dublin again, I will plop myself down there and never leave.

Gravediggers (aka Kavanagh’s)

I’ve only been once, but this pub left an impression. John Kavanagh’s, commonly known as Gravediggers, is a fascinating proper old man’s pub that is built into the Glasnevin cemetery wall. Its unusual name originates from the post-shift pints neighbouring gravediggers would have (not the Irish “shift”, but North American work “shifts”).

Other frequenters of the pub often included family and friends mourning a loved one. According to this BBC article, cemeteries even instituted a bylaw that burials could only happen before noon (now 3pm) in order to prevent people showing up drunk or completely missing funerals.

Spend the day at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, about 5km from Dublin’s City Centre, and then hunker down for the evening for a pint and the chat at John Kavanagh’s. Just don’t stay too long, or you may see its resident ghost.

Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, beside John Kavanagh’s Pub (aka Gravediggers)

As with many businesses in Ireland, Gravediggers is no spring chick. Established in 1833, it has been passed down by family through the generations. Most interestingly though, is the strict rule that no music or dancing is permitted. The pub also doesn’t have a phone, radio, or tv. Having the chat, an age-old tradition and well-honed skill of the Irish, and enjoying a pint (or few) is what one does at Gravediggers.

Brazen Head

http://www.brazenhead.com/

Ireland’s oldest pub first opened its doors in 1198. Over the centuries, Brazen Head has been an inn, political headquarters for revolutionary planners, a home for writers, and of course, a cozy spot to enjoy spirits of all flavours. Brazen Head is walking distance from Christ Church Cathedral, the Jameson Distillery, and the Guinness Storehouse. It also has a rocking menu I can’t wait to try out!

Cassidy’s

Cassidy’s on Westmoreland Street is a great spot if you’re jonesing for a pint and a pizza. It’s also where you can go to release your inner child. You can draw on the walls or lamps or tables or anything else with a surface! In fact, the bartenders are all too happy to lend you a sharpie for your creative endeavours. I added my autograph a few years back, though I’m guessing it’s long covered over by now.

Dublin's Cassidy Pub Games & Drinks & Drawing

Grogan’s

A visit to Dublin isn’t complete without a toastie (grilled cheese) and a pint from Grogan’s. I’ve enjoyed several such delights while having the chat with complete strangers (a favourite pasttime) and hanging out or reuniting with old friends. Go here. Eat a toastie. Smile.

Dublin's Grogan's Pub, Toasties & Smiles and all!

Dawson Lounge

https://www.facebook.com/TheDawsonLounge/

I love small things – smart cars, flip phones, stickers, mini markers, cozy reading nooks, the list goes on. Dawson Lounge, Dublin’s smallest pub, does not disappoint. However, do not come here if you have claustrophobia. With reports of capacity between 24 & 40 people, bartender included, it is one of the quirkiest and most fantastic pub experiences I’ve had. Check it out – just don’t bring all of your friends at once!

Museums & Historical Tours

The Long Room @ Trinity College

https://www.tcd.ie/library/old-library/

If you’re any sort of bibliophile, history buff, romantic, or simply love the smell of old books, this is the place for you. Typically the crowds line up to see Trinity College Dublin’s Book of Kells (also fascinating, I suppose), however I prefer the perfect symmetry, dust, and ink of the historic Long Room.

Dublinès Trinity College Long Room, Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

I visited Trinity College for the first time when I was 14 with my family. Our flight had gotten in that morning and my parents were doing their best to keep their gaggle of kids awake despite the jet lag. Let’s just say my first memories of such a well-known landmark were foggy at best. There’s a picture to remind me of that day, but the rest is lost in a child’s tired brain.

When I moved to Ireland in my 20s, I returned to the campus with a few friends. I knew the Book of Kells was a 9th century compilation of the 4 Gospels, which was cool enough, but when I walked into the Long Room I fell in love. Instantly I was whisked away by the aroma of ancient ink and the ghosts of scholars past weaving amongst the stacks. I decided then and there I was going to become a TCD student one day just so I can sit in that room longer than a hot tourist minute.

Leprechaun Museum

http://www.leprechaunmuseum.ie/

For an experience equal bits quirky and informative, there’s a den open to those bold enough to encounter fairies. Tucked into the north side of the Liffey at the corner of Jervis Street and Abbey Street Upper, lies the mythical territory of magical creatures, masked by the human world outside.

Dublin's Leprechaun Museum, Leprechaun Costume

The Irish are known for many things, not least of which is their masterful storytelling and animated folklore. I realized just how little I knew about such a huge part of my ancestral heritage when I visited The Leprechaun Museum. Don’t tell anyone, but I enjoyed the child-directed decor as much as the 8-year olds who shrieked and ran around the interactive rooms. It really doesn’t matter if you’re 62 or 7. If you have an imagination, a sense of humour, and a childlike curiosity, I’d highly suggest escaping into the world on the other side of the Leprechaun Museum’s door.

Kilmainham Gaol

http://kilmainhamgaolmuseum.ie/

Let me say this: as a 14-year old, the Kilmainham Gaol tour was one of my favourite on our European odyssey. I had no idea about the Easter Rising, and yet it completely captured my attention. Looking back, I think this can be attributed to the phenomenal guide we had. They weren’t just rattling off facts and dates for the group to ingest. One of the strongest realizations I’ve come to living and travelling abroad, is how aware some cultures and communities are of their surroundings, be it past or present. The Irish were the first I encountered who revealed the depth of their pride and historical familiarity. Each time I return home to Canada I’m inspired to become more informed thanks to the Irish guides, friends, colleagues, and driving instructors (that story’s for another time!) I met.

The Kilmainham Gaol is so loaded with historical significance that I won’t do it justice here (another reason why you need to see it for yourself). When the jail was originally built it was used to keep beggars, debtors, prostitutes and drunks. Despite being considered a modern facility, inmates were held under harsh conditions. During the Famine years, cells were overpopulated with up to 5 people to a cell. Women and children caught for stealing food or begging were common unlucky inhabitants.

Dublin's Kilmainham Gaol, Image by alanbatt from Pixabay
Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol, Image by alanbatt from Pixabay

Numerous political prisoners of varying notoriety were held, hung, and deported from Kilmainham, including Henry Joy McCracken of the United Irishmen (1798), the Young Irelanders (1848), the Fenians (1867), Charles Stewart Parnell (1881-1882), the Invincibles (1882), and perhaps most famously, the men and women of the Easter Rising (1916) which saw 14 men executed by a firing squad. I stood where Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, James Connolly and the other Irish men were executed and remember feeling an anxious discomfort standing where they last breathed. The atmosphere was nothing short of chilling.

Jameson’s Distillery

https://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en-EN/

Everyone associates Ireland with Guinness, and I get it, but in my humble opinion, the Jameson’s Distillery is underrated. Maybe it’s because I don’t like beer, but both the tour and the tastings at Jameson’s were top notch. It’s been a few years since I passed their taste test and became an Official Jameson’s Distillery Taste Tester…but perhaps that means I should go again. Regardless, if you like whisky or history, or a mélange, Jameson’s Distillery is a solid spot to wet your whistle and learn about what has made it a national treasure.

To get to the Jameson’s Distillery in Dublin on Bow Street, you can join the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour or it’s a short 20 minute walk from the City Centre. Guided tours start at 19 and are definitely worth it, especially if you have one as funny as ours was. At the Bow Street distillery you can also learn how to blend your own whisky, become an expert whisky-cocktail maker and, of course, try a few samples along the way.

Dublin's Jameson's Whisky Bow Street
Dublin's Jameson's Whisky Distillery Official Taster

Sporting Events

Rugby Matches @ Aviva Stadium

http://www.irishrugby.ie/tickets

Rugby was the sport I dodged like the plague when it was introduced in high school. A friend who played competitively loved the physicality of the sport. She once boasted about making contact with another player who broke their collar bone as a result. Noooo thank you, I thought! I had enough contact on the basketball court and wouldn’t be seeking any more of it on a field.

That being said, it’s a fantastic game to watch! I caught my first full proper rugby match in Dublin, and the crowd was as entertaining as the game. Even if you don’t play or know anything about the sport, go for the craic and the atmosphere. Sports enthusiasts in Ireland are passionate about their teams and their club’s history. Go get caught up in the energy of the stadium, the streets, and the pub!

Ireland Rugby vs Argentina at Croke Park in Dublin

Gaelic Football

http://www.gaa.ie/

Gaelic Football is the paella of sports. Don’t know what paella is? You’re missing out. Fly to Spain immediately. Don’t know what GAA is? You’re missing out. Get a ticket to Croke Park (or other live venue) immediately.

Gaelic Football, also known as “Gaelic” or “Football”, is unlike any other sport I’ve watched before. It was so intriguing that I wanted to learn how to play after catching my first match. I was subsequently super bummed to find out that the boys at my Canadian high school were taught, and the girls were not!

Football, to me, as a mix of soccer, volleyball, basketball, rugby, and North American football. It’s an outdoor 2-team sport played on a grass pitch, with 15 players per side. Points are scored by kicking or punching the ball over the other team’s goalposts for 3 points, or between 2 upright posts and over its crossbar for 1 point. Australians will likely be familiar with Irish Football as the rules are similar and the following just as fierce.

If boisterous and enthusiastic crowds are your jam, make sure you get tickets close enough to “Hill 16” for double the entertainment. I was lucky enough to get last minute tickets “on the Hill” a few years back, and I didn’t know what to pay more attention to – the game or the crowd!

Dublin's GAA Croke Park, View from Hill 16

Hurling @ Croke Park

http://www.gaa.ie/

Hurling is the only Irish sport I still have not attended a match for, but I’m fascinated by it. Like Gaelic Football, it is played on a rectangular field with goal posts for scoring points, and opposing teams made up of 15 players each. Players use a curved stick (hurley, or “camán in Irish) to strike the small white ball (“sliotar”) on the ground, bounce it in the air, or whack it across the field to a fellow player or to score a point. The female version of hurling is called camogie.

Ireland's Hurling
Image by Elsupero from Pixabay

While I don’t know as much about hurling and camogie, I am 1 million percent positive the the Irish are absolute beasts when it comes to sports. They play in the most insane weather (and I say this as a Canadian where we play organized hockey indoors), with wooden bats and zooming balls, and physical contact like no other. Their mental game is outrageous.

Conclusion (but definitely not The End)

https://www.visitdublin.com/

Dublin, like many places, has so much more to offer than I can cover in one blog post without it turning into an epic novel. This post is a “quick” scratch of the surface, with a few gems tossed in, to get out and explore Dublin for a first-timer. Besides, I like to say you always want to have something to come back to, and there’s a lot not on this list that would tickle your fancy and have you wanting to return.

I’d love to hear all about your escapades at the suggestions above or anywhere else you enjoyed while in Dublin! Leave your comments below so other future travellers can enjoy them too. Cheers! Sláinte!

Rebound or Refresh? That Good Ol’ Second Love.

Concrete suffocates and overpowers all signs of life.  The only reminders of “nature” are scratchy synthetic turf and reflections of sunbeams off of towering office walls.  The traffic is never ending and angry, frustrated by perpetual construction and rush hour stalemates.  Sidewalks cough up armies of Important Suits, rapidly marching to. the. next. destination.  A congestion of ties and heels swiftly maneuver over forgotten humans, making an effort to ignore them until is becomes habitual. 

Tense energy invades my space and irritates my skin.  It is foreign and gross.  I don’t want to be here.

(more…)

My First Love

First loves.  They change your life.  Often times they’re unexpected; it’s one of the reasons why they’re so impactful.  My first love was no different.  Six years later, I still talk about it with enthusiasm, and in many ways it has altered my life’s course.  (more…)

My Love Affair

I’ve Been Having an Affair. Now It’s Time to Kiss and Tell.

As you know, in my last post I admitted to you that I have been having an affair and that it is one of the most delicious and satisfying experiences I’ve had.  In fact, I’m pretty excited to tell you everything.  Seems odd, doesn’t it?  Typically affairs are hush-hush, furtive side glances, and furrowed brows.  I, on the other hand, want to shout to anyone around about mine.

My First Love

Let’s back up a bit.  Six years ago, I met my first love and it rocked my world.  I didn’t anticipate it, and perhaps that’s where some of the magic lay.  I had different ideas for myself and what I wanted before we met.  I had plans, more or less.  It happened anyway.  That first love radiated light everywhere around me, showered me with gifts, and healed past aches.  It was transformative in the way only first loves can be.  I keep it safe in my memory, in my body, and on my face still.  

My first love was wild and kind and wise.  It was playful and intriguing, brimming with music and mirth and late nights together.  There were many ‘firsts’ and uncountable smiles.  I gave everything I could, though I was the lucky one, enveloped in all its charm and wit.  All these years later my expression still exudes the elation I feel when discussions of it surface.  I will always love my first love, even as I live my third love now.  It is why my third love feels like an affair, and then I remind myself they can all hold space in my heart.

I was not prepared for my first love to end when it did.  Its time was up, in some ways that is for sure, but I was not ready.  I held on.  I closed up.  I was resistant to moving on.  The aftermath was tough and then life moved forward.  I chose to move forward too.

My Second Love

My second love arrived shortly after the first.  Love number two was amiable, good-natured, and easy.  We met in the late fall and life took off pretty quickly.  I remember most the summer days we spent together, exploring and eating and feeling the sun on our skin.  There was less music, which I longed for, and still do, I must admit.  Instead, we frequently delighted over exotic feasts.  Fortunately I am as tickled by sensations on my tongue as I am in my ear.

Evenings together were spent surrounded with our loved ones playing games and sharing homemade potlucks.  It was different and perfect.  We fell into a fantastic rhythm of never-ending energetic plans and I was almost truly happy.  Part of me still longed for my first love, holding on too tight to the past.  The rest of me eased into this new version of contentment.

Ten months later our relationship changed when I moved.  It’s always me that leaves.  I wasn’t ready for that relationship to be finished either but my feet were tied by choice and circumstance, as life goes.  We stayed in touch, both of us making the effort, but it’s not the same when you occupy different spaces.  Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but what is out of sight is most certainly also out of mind.  People drift apart, routines change, and despite our efforts to meet up from time to time, the rhythm lost its beat.

We reunited for a few months the next summer.  It was wonderful and we packed in as much as we could, knowing our time together would be brief.  Then I left again.

Now, My Third Love

Now, I feel confident in saying I have lived and am living my third love.  I am older, so it is different.  The butterflies are fewer and less delirious, perhaps because I recognize them when they begin and we learn to quell our emotions as we get older.  Why do we do that to ourselves as we age?  Certainly you know what I mean – how the butterflies change over time.  Those first butterfly flurries are pure ecstasy.  The thumping in your stomach and chest, the nervous sweaty palms and aching cheeks from smiling so fully – that, is the definition of living.  I digress.

This third love of mine, I have taken ownership of.  I have consciously contributed as much to its direction as I have been along for the ride.  There is something exciting about hopping in the driver’s seat together.  I used to love being whisked up in romance’s unknowns, though now I enjoy taking hold of the wheel as well.  Our interdependence has given me space and support.  It has provided me a stronger belief in myself, in love, and in making things happen in the world.  It is what excites me most about our relationship.

And yet, we will be coming to an end, or at least a pause, a shift, a turn in the road.  In my head and my heart, it is not our ending.  We will be together again soon, sooner than the other loves.  We are just getting our groove, digging in and making our mark together.  Choice and convenience are butting heads again and I must go, at least for a little while.  In the meantime, I’m going to squeeze this affair with all of my energy, love, and passion.  With luck, it will tide us over until I return.  Only time will tell, and the distance it covers.

Agnes @ Egilsstaðir Campground

Agnes – Owner of Egilsstaðir Campground

Agnes is the owner of Egilsstaðir Campground, my favourite campsite from our 14-day Icelandic excursion.  One of the most exciting surprises at the campground was the sparkly clean, warm porcelain seats that greeted our bottoms in the chilly morning.  It’s the tiny simple pleasures that make your day while living on the road sometimes.  There was also oodles of practical information for travellers covering the walls in the laundry room.  The posters covered everything you could possibly want and need to know about when driving the Ring Road, from how to avoid terrifying Icelandic speeding fines and where to find Game of Thrones locations, to daily weather forecasts (windy and rainy, if you were wondering).  The lounge was comfortably decorated with couches, tables, and a plethora of charging stations, perfect for our electronically-saturated luggage.

Egilsstadir Campground Lounge Area

Agnes

We settled into the reception area with our cardboard box kitchen to a scrumptious breakfast of PB&J with a side of oranges and bananas after another night cocooned in our car.  Agnes greeted everyone who passed through with a kind smile, helping with directions, purchases, and general questions.  We spent most of the day hunkered down, fixing a broken drone and chatting with her.  I told her how we had found her campground online and of the glowing reviews people wrote about her.  We gabbed about the campground, Iceland, and our quest for the Northern Lights before saying goodbye.  Agnes welcomed us into her country with such warmth and genuine happiness.  She is one of those individuals who made our day, even in the short amount of time our paths crossed.  We may not ever meet again but staying at her campsite was definitely a treat we’ll remember!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Magic of Travel

You at Home vs. You Abroad

There’s something magical about chance encounters, random conversations, and connecting with people you may never see again.  I don’t know whether it is me that is different or those around me when I travel.  It’s probably a bit of both, but striking up conversations with random folk feels so much easier in a new place.  After living in Ireland, a country known for enjoying “the chat”, I moved to Toronto, Canada.  Both cities have a piece of my heart, but the reverse culture shock in Toronto where conversing with strangers is, well, strange was tough to re-adjust to.  I don’t believe this is isolated to Toronto…but I’ll have to live in a few more cities to confirm my hypothesis!

With the transformation of this blog going forward, I am incorporating stories of people I meet and businesses I love from home and abroad.  The hope is that my connections may become your connections.  Whether you are travelling to a new place, searching for a unique item, or reading and following along, they’ll all be here for you.

Global Community

I love the idea of creating a global community or network.  It makes life seem simpler, cozier, friendlier.  That stranger on the subway or the other side of the world turns into someone you’ll relate to in an instant, or network with to create a world-shifting NGO, or any of the other millions of possibilities creating relationships brings.  We’re already closer than we may think.  There are often links in common along the way – a friend knows a brother or you worked at the same company just months apart.  I even heard a story once where someone had moved into a woman’s former home and lived there for years before they met, “by chance”.  Doesn’t that give you shivers?!

My goal is to bring the dots closer for you to connect, to create the space for it to happen.  So come in, you’re welcome to stay a while and have a peak around the place.  Who knows who you’ll meet!

Hugs for all on Jeju Island

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sveinn @ Cafe Berlin

*This is the first in a collection of stories I’m looking forward to sharing with you about friendly faces, tasty places, and snazzy businesses from around the world.  This is not a sponsored post.

Sveinn – Owner of Cafe Berlin Akureyri

After a rejuvenating swim and shower at the local pool in Akureyri, we decided to splurge and treat ourselves to brunch at Cafe Berlin.  Fresh smoked salmon, creamy brie, buttery mushrooms, spicy avocado, tangy pineapple…it was pure tastebud bliss after consuming dozens of gas station hot dogs and boxes of Ritz crackers, even if we did share a single plate.  To top it off, we drooled over a waffle drizzled with caramel sauce and a side of whipped cream.  Mmmm-mmm!  Between the refreshing morning swim and the celebratory tastebud dance, you couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces if you tried.  Somehow though, the day got better.

Akureyri's Cafe Berlin in Iceland - So Tasty

Belly full and ready to work, I added Cafe Berlin to my travel feed on Instagram (@travelwithtmc).  Shortly after, the café’s feed returned the follow.  I asked the server we ordered from if he was running the account, to which he responded yes.  He turned out to be the café’s owner and a wealth of insight into all things Iceland.  Fellow foodie, Sveinn, shared with us his upcoming journey to Sweden to visit a Michelin-star restaurant.  Enthusiastically, we swapped binge-worthy Netflix morsels to devour.  Over the next couple of hours the cafe emptied.  Conversation filled the space, a recipe of Iceland’s history, politics, environment and social landscape.  Entertaining anecdotes of people frequenting his café, from the country’s witty finance minister, to a whisky-loving friend (and the reason alcohol is stocked at the cafe) peppered his stories.  We shared our travel story thus far and the wonder with which we experienced his country.  If you’re ever in Iceland and hungry for a treat, be sure to feast on both the food and the gab at Cafe Berlin!

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s Time for . . .

La tour à l’étranger

If you’ve previously visited my travel blog, la tour à l’étranger, you’ll notice some changes.  The first is the appellation of my musings.  This blog began as a personal project with two goals: update friends and family back home while living abroad, and document my experiences for nostalgia’s sake when I’m old and wrinkly.

La tour à l’étranger, roughly translated from French, means The Tower Abroad or The Foreign Tower.  It was a nod to two physical attributes – my height and location.  It also followed the format of “theme” and “identifier” most blog monikers apply.  Some of my favourite travel blogs are great examples of this format: Legal Nomads, The Bucket List Family, Nomadic Matt, and The Restless Worker.  Picture day at school almost always sealed my vantage point in the centre of the back row.  “Giant”, “tall”, and “big” weren’t cutting it to use in a blog title, however “tower” luckily began with a T in both French and English.  Coincidentally, Tara, in at least one of its linguistic derivations, means “tower”.  Either my parents are psychic or the universe has a funny way of manifesting itself.  The “foreign/abroad” element is self-explanatory.  Lastly, the title was in French as a nod to my profession as a French teacher and fascination with language and linguistics.  Unfortunately, there was one glaring problem – most of the site’s visitors don’t speak French! The title held no meaning to its Anglophone audience.  It was confusing, easily forgettable, and often misspelled.  Not a great combination for making an impression.

Connecting the Dots

Two years after this personal project began, life, travel, and this site have morphed into the next chapter.  Welcome to Connecting the Dots.  One of my favourite things to do, whether it’s with words, travel, or people, is to find, create, and maintain connections.  In language classes I teach my students to be Language Detectives, identifying clues that aid them in recognizing both meaning and grammar.  They connect world history and personal experiences to spelling and structure, becoming autonomous learners, expert problem-solvers, and independent thinkers instead of robotic regurgitators of sounds and sticks.  In social settings, friends and family can attest to the giddy enthusiasm with which I recount how so-and-so from one part of my life is connected to another familiar so-and-so.  Another genuine thrill is connecting those around me.  It creates a cozy space, an intimate space, with the potential to take care of and help each other.  It can break down barriers, build understanding, and lead to unlimited opportunities.  It can support healthy bodies, minds, and hearts.  At its core, it is community.  Living, working, and travelling abroad exponentially magnifies the possibilities to connect words, places, and people, especially with the use of the internet.  You can see why I’m so addicted to foreign lands.

Change & The 4 “P”s

As with language and words, when there is a change to the structure, there is a change to meaning.  Replace “-ed” with “-ing” and you are actively learning, instead of having once learned.  And so, this cozy nook in the interweb is moving with new direction and purpose, built on four components:

  • People: to connect people and businesses around the world that I interact with and support
  • Places: to connect faraway traditions, history, and landscapes, to you at home
  • Pictures: to connect unfamiliar perspectives and moments to your experiences
  • Parlance: to connect words to their past histories, present use, and to other ways of communicating
1,2,3…You and Me

Literally anything is possible through the practice of finding, creating, and maintaining connections (read The Brain That Changes Itself, it’ll blow your mind!).  I think that’s why I have such a passion for it.

Something I’m grateful to witness often in my job is the delight children have for the simple bits in life.  Disguised as a thrilling pastime, there is an exercise that requires a pencil, a paper, and some patience to help children learn to count.  When an image reveals itself from a bunch of seemingly random dots, the reaction of pure joy and amazement is priceless.  And learning how to count?  A bonus.

The dialogue you create contributes to and builds this space into something I am unable to do as a single “dot”.  I like to think we’re 1 degree of separation apart instead of 6; a small world after all, if you will.  Thank you for visiting, and… for connecting the dots!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jet Lag, Yer a Gnarly One

Jet Lag in Laos

Day 2.5 in Laos, a country I’ve been wanting to visit for the past 5 years, and I’ve slept through most of it thus far.  Jet lag, you stinker, you’re foiling all my plans to explore and learn and be creative and make new friends and, and…zzzzz!  Arriving in a new place is usually a boost enough to wake up at ungodly hours and join the daylight, but I just can’t seem to kick the sleep monster this time.

We arrived on October 8th in the evening after 2 days and 4 flights traversing 2 continents.  Five years ago I made a similar trek while living in Dublin, visiting Malaysia, Cambodia, and Thailand with childhood friends.  It was one of those epic friend trips filled with neon colours, eyes wide with wonder, wobbly buckets, ancient wats & rickety tuk-tuks, fingers tickling with excitement, and bellies wrought by who knows what bugaboos…but no jet lag.

Tricks of the Trade: Beating Jet Lag

I have a few theories on how this is possible.
1) almost thirty vs. early-twenties = pre-historic vs. pre-mature bodies coping with the tick-tock of the world
2) my love of sleep has overtaken my love of travel
3) contrary to my previous beliefs, a diet consisting of mountains of chocolate from around the world doesn’t provide you enough energy, or
4) I didn’t play the jet-lag game as well as I could have this time

You see, jet lag is a funny little sneaky turd of a gnome.  You can beat him at his game by guzzling water (check), eating healthy (almost check), exercising (questionable check), and sleeping while the sun is down as you chase it across the skies (definitely no check).  But I didn’t follow the rules.  Seasoned travellers win this game with their eyes shut, just as baby-faced early twenty-somethings can run a race after a marathon night of university “studying”.  Instead of ticking the boxes and triumphantly crossing the ribbon at the finish line, I was preoccupied with holding my breath next to stinky seat neighbours, documenting the desert below, binge-watching a new tv show on the in-flight entertainment system, and lastly, counting the odd sheep jump over my head.

Desert Airplane Views

Time for Sleep

Perhaps I should have drunk more water, eaten more vegetables (and less chocolate), and closed my eyes when the desert was laid out beneath me.  But I did not and now it’s 3pm local time and I’ve been awake for only an hour today.  My other travel half is currently in la-la land, sawing logs and blissfully unaware of the time.

For now I’m going to catch up on writing, something I’ve missed terribly and forgotten to do while soaking up life in new lands.  I’m going to chug some water, and I’m going to strategically set my alarm for bedtime and follow it no matter how wide awake I am…maybe…hopefully…honestly!…probably.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Nakedness

I got naked in Iceland…in public…multiple times…and it was fantastic.

Canadians Don’t Get Naked

If you grew up in Canada you know what I mean when I say, Canadians don’t get naked in public.  We are naked in public as babies or toddlers and then never again.  We get naked in the shower or bathtub.  We may get naked around our homes (depending on who we live with these days).  We get naked if we’re dared to skinny dip, or inebriated and less inhibited.  And “risqué” folk get naked at that beach on Toronto Island or with other naturists.  But we don’t really get naked in public in Canada.

Canadians hear of the beaches in Europe and think, with varying degrees of excitement, “SEX!”, “EW!”, “uhhh public nudity? No thanks,”.  In the Brady Bunch movie, their neighbour walks nude in her living room every Saturday morning.  As a kid, all I could think was, “How mortifying – what if someone saw?!”.  Then there’s Naked Man from Friends – the gang’s gawking took the term “neighbourhood watch” to a whole other level.  And now there’s the possibility that someone will film you if you’re naked somewhere and put the video up online.  Of course, not all Canadians (born or naturalized – we’re quite the wide range of folk after all!) react this way to seeing more than a coyly flashed ankle.  I do think it’s fair though to say Canadian culture is nudity-adverse.  There’s something about it that makes the country squirm underneath layers upon layers of clothing.

Our “Ick” to the “Ude”

In North America, nudity typically equates to sex, pornography, prostitution, and other shocking subjects.  From a young age, Canadians are taught that baring your bits around others leads to shame-filled experiences.  Ever been pants’d around your peers?  It’s not usually remembered as your finest moment.  Public nudity is for “bad people” with unspeakable jobs and morals or “weird people” leading hippie lifestyles.  In fact, some might claim Canada’s prudish perspective is delayed for a “progressive” first world country.  Over the last couple of years, Ontario has only just introduced teaching correct anatomical terminology to young students, and look at the backlash it’s receiving!

The history behind the “why” to our “ick” is one we could undress here further, but I think it’s safe to say the impact of our Anglosaxon/Catholic/Protestant settlers has a continued presence that is long overdue for a wardrobe change.

Enter the rest of the world.  Nudity in other countries doesn’t, or seems not to, warrant conversation.  Beaches, swimming pool showers, and public baths are all locations where it is normal to be stark-naked.  In many countries it’s even mandatory to shower nude pre-swim – and there aren’t always partitions to hide behind.

Why Was I Nude in Iceland?

So why was I in the buff, in public, several times recently?  I’ve been living out of a car for the past 2 weeks in Iceland, which begs the question – how do you take care of personal hygiene?  There are two options I researched before our trip and have accessed while in Iceland: campsites and community swimming pools.  Swimming pools have been my favourite option so far.  In Iceland it is mandatory to shower nude before entering the pool. Kids, grandmas, moms, teens, and babies, in separate male and female areas, all share an open space to rinse off before a dip.  And so, when in Rome, I followed along in my own fabulous birthday suit!

What are your nude-tastic experiences?  Add your story below in the comment section!

 

Icelandic Pool Changeroom

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Purple Planes & Trip Prep

En Route

I’m thousands of feet up in the air as I write this, gliding in a perky purple WOWair plane towards Iceland, and I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet the adventure that’s begun.  I can’t help but think a few thoughts over and over – the purple librarian in the basement at UW’s Dana Porter library would be in heaven on this plane, as would my cousin.  No one owns more purple items than them and I’m shocked they aren’t already WOW shareholders.  There are purple carpets, purple chairs, purple lights, and the outside is rocking that royal color vibe too.  The second thought is that people in Iceland must be tiny because I’m eating my knees and praying the girl in front of me doesn’t put her seat back any further.  Six feet tall in the middle seat is no bueno with WOWair.  Fellow giants and leggy folk, book that purple aisle seat.

Trip Prep

The weeks leading up to today were a lesson in preparation; specifically that I don’t do enough and that it’s definitely time to pick up the slack!  This was most apparent when getting vaccinated.  I made two rookie mistakes – not budgeting enough money (my pocket hurts more than my overly-pricked arm!) or time (each has a different schedule to follow and some require more than one dose).  Luckily all superhuman injections penetrated my flesh just in time; the last one this morning.  Bring it on mosquitoes and germy food!

Packing, as always, was superb.  It’s by far my favorite travel activity…ahem…  My “what if” instinct kicked in full blast for this trip, particularly the rainy, chilly Iceland portion.  In fact, I am now the well-stocked owner of foldable rain boots, thermal undies, a toque (I don’t wear hats), a fleece sweater, and one of those puffy jackets that can double as a pillow.  “She must be an expert camper with all that gear”, people will say.  We won’t tell them the truth.  The best part though, is that, somehow, my thousand-tonne bag waltzed through the dreaded weigh-in without a second look.  Pro after all.

*Which item below did I not buy?

The Best Part of Iceland So Far

I’ll leave you with a pretty awesome tidbit I learned about Iceland reading the WOW magazine: there are no, I repeat, zero McDonalds joints on the island.  Unreal.  I’m as excited as the time I ate chocolate for breakfast in Belgium.  I have dreams about fast food joints (minus pita, poutine, and pizza places, and Harvey’s) being eradicated from the world.  Iceland might be a new favourite country and I haven’t even landed!

What is your packing style? Are you as excited as I am about a country’s complete absence of McDonalds?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Unwelcome to Iceland

Day 1: Reykjavik, Iceland

Life rarely goes as planned, and the same applies to travel. Day one was the perfect example.  Our flight landed 25 minutes early in Reykjavik at 4:20am. After kissing a puffin armed with surveillance eyes and collecting our luggage, we exited the airport, fully stocked with Duty Free wine and giant Milka chocolate bars. The first brisk breath of morning air was sharp and fresh, smelling raw and rough, a sign we’d left home behind. Coupled with the pink glow of the sunrise, it was a perfect “good morning” from the island.

Icelandic Milka Bar Thrills

Travel Mishap: #1 – Ace Car Rental

And then life knocked on the door and said “let’s stir the pot”. The games began at Ace Car Rental’s office. While checking in we learned that as of a couple weeks ago, they no longer take AMEX. This was not posted on Expedia, the site we reserved on, or on Ace’s site. Later on the phone with Expedia, who called Ace for clarification, the Ace phone rep insisted we could pay with AMEX. Not the case as was evident in our and a few other disgruntled patrons experience. Usually when businesses don’t accept golden plastic there’s no problem switching to Mastercard or Visa. However, we had booked with AMEX to use its insurance and avoid unnecessarily high rental prices.

The Ace employees were less than helpful, repeating that they didn’t care (to help) either way or what we did. Peculiar method of assisting the customer, I thought. Having worked a fair bit in customer service, you try anything you can to provide solutions and remedy situations. Not at Ace Rental! They did, however, pitch us their insurance, which would effectively double the cost of our car. “Heck no”, we responded. We asked to use their company phone to call Expedia. Unfortunately it was their only phone and the one customers use for emergencies. Reluctantly they lent it to us, with exasperated looks and motions to hurry up. Expedia’s customer service wasn’t much better and a few hours later we gave up and turned to a neighbouring rental company that accepted AMEX. In the end, we ended up paying $200 more than what we had booked for online, with no action from Expedia or Ace for the inconvenience (we missed our tour in Reykjavik). The car is now manual (thank you USIT!) but we have internet which is a plus.

Icelandic Crappy Car Rentals

Travel Mishap: #2 – Parking Ticket

The plot twisted further once in town. Still morning and too early to check in at the hostel, we found a parking space to close our eyes for a bit. When we woke up a tiny white slip danced on the windshield; a $50 parking ticket greeting our fuzzy eyes. Luckily we only paid $34 since we paid it immediately. Everyone said Iceland was expensive!

Travel Mishap: #3 – Angry Taxi Man

Bad things come in threes and day one didn’t stray from tradition. Heading to dinner we were unaware we were in the wrong lane until a taxi sped up behind us, brights blasting, and followed us as we pulled over to let him pass. Confusion collided with bewilderment as he rolled down his window and proceeded to yell, eyes wide as saucers, finger angrily gesturing, that we were in the bus and taxi lane. Oops, note taken. Don’t drive in the S lane if you’re in Iceland!

Light at the End of the Tunnel

There was light at the end of the tunnel. Day one ended on a high note. The Blue Lagoon did not disappoint and we spent a few relaxing hours soaking in the geothermal waters. Back in Reykjavik we stumbled upon a gem of a restaurant, opened just a month, called Icelandic Street Food. The three people working there were friendly, offering us samples and answering questions. One delicious traditional lamb soup and a shellfish soup in a bread bowl later, our smiles were back. We topped off the tasty meal with the owner’s grandmother’s homemade Happy Marriage Cake and an Icelandic donut. Mmmm!!! The young owner invited us back for free breakfast the next morning, a new promotion he’s testing out, and we happily accepted. Bellies full, we fell asleep two happy travellers after all.

What travel detours and bumps have you experienced?  Leave your comments below!

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,