I knew I would love Ireland before I even got there. I have always wanted to go and given that flights from London are so cheap I couldn’t resist adding Ireland to my list of travels! Even though I had to wake up at 4am to make my flight, the early start was totally worth it. It was rainy and foggy when I landed in Dublin on Thursday morning but I still had a smile on my face because I was in Ireland… and it’s supposed to rain in Ireland! As soon as I got off the plane, I hopped on the Airlink bus which dropped me right in front of my hostel (Jacobs Inn – http://www.isaacs.ie/jacobs-inn-dublin/home.aspx). I highly recommend this hostel to anyone traveling to Dublin. It’s basically like a hotel but at really low prices. After checking in and dropping off my bag, I headed into Dublin to explore the city and get a feel for where everything is. Dublin is an extremely easy city to get around and you can basically get everywhere on foot which is amazing! I explored Grafton St (the famous shopping street) and then came across Dublin Castle where I signed up for a tour before checking out Christ Church Cathedral. The tour of Dublin Castle was definitely worth the mere 3.50 euro that it cost! The tour guide was extremely enthusiastic and informative which always makes a big difference. Unfortunately, my 4am wake up kicked in during the early evening so I had to call it an early night so I would be ready to explore more on Friday.

I woke up on Friday to a beautiful sunny day and decided to take the train out to Howth – a quaint little fishing village just outside of Dublin. I was very happy with my decision to do this because the village was so pretty and the cliff walk around the peninsula offered spectacular views! I thoroughly enjoyed the 2 hour walk around the cliffs and rewarded myself with some fresh and traditional fish and chips upon my return to the village. I definitely recommend making the trip out to Howth for anyone visiting Dublin. It’s a very quick and easy way to see the “real” Ireland. I returned to Dublin late in the afternoon and headed back into the center of town to do a little shopping and see Trinity College. I called it another early night in preparation for another early morning on Saturday for a trip to Northern Ireland and the Giants Causeway.

Jon flew in late Friday night and so I met him at his hotel at 6am on Saturday so we could head out on our day trip together. We took the Extreme Ireland Daytour to Northern Ireland and it was worth every single penny… Another big recommendation for anyone traveling to Dublin (http://www.extremeireland.ie/tours/daytours_intro.aspx). Our tour guide, Mike, was a hilarious and fun guy who was full of great stories and interesting facts – including the fact that people come to Ireland for Guiness and good Craic… and apparently craic means fun! We also got tremendously lucky with the weather… Not a cloud in the sky… So unlike Ireland, yet so perfect! Our tour bus took us north through Belfast and along a spectacular coastal road with amazing views! We stopped at Carrick-a-Rede to cross over the famous rope bridge onto this tiny little island off of the coast. The rope bridge was slightly scary but very fun! And I can’t emphasize enough how amazing the weather and views were. The sky was so clear that we could even see parts of Scotland from the road. After the rope bridge, we stopped at a local pub for a traditional steak and Guinness pie before heading to the Giants Causeway – an amazing natural phenomena! We walked down to the Causeway and had a chance to play and take pictures on the rocks! After our stop at the Causeway, we got back on the bus and headed back down to Belfast to spend some time there as well. We got back to Dublin…exhausted… around 9pm that night! However, we forced ourselves to rally and grabbed some dinner and pints (irish cider and beamish) at a pub in Temple Bar.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, we woke up in time to enjoy a traditional irish breakfast…. boxty included (http://www.boxtyhouse.ie/)! We needed a good breakfast for our full day ahead of the Guiness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery! The Guiness Storehouse was a great self guided tour which helped us to learn about how the famed beverage is made…And we were rewarded with a free pint at the Gravity Bar which offers great views of Dublin. Next, we headed to Jameson to learn about how the irish whiskey is made. The distillery offered a great tour and we got to sample the whiskey as well. Jon volunteered to be an official whiskey taster and got to compare the samples to both Jack Daniels and Scotch Whiskey… Very different! Feeling good from all of the sampling, we headed to Grafton St to pick up a late lunch and had a picnic in St Stephens Green. After a relaxing late afternoon, we had dinner at Bewley’s Oriental Cafe (http://bewleys.com/bewleys-grafton-street-cafe)… And finished it off with some irish ice cream (http://www.murphysicecream.ie/Murphys_Ice_Cream_Home_Page.html)! I tried brown bread ice cream with raspberry sorbet which was interestingly delicious!

Jon had to catch a flight early Monday morning again and I had the day to finish exploring Dublin. I had a delicious iced coffee from Butler’s Chocolate Cafe (http://www.butlerschocolates.com/pages/Butlers-Chocolate-Cafe/Butlers-Chocolate-Cafe.htm) in St Stephens Green and wandered down through Merrion Square and saw Oscar Wilde’s old residence. I did a little shopping and more exploring before learning about Dublin’s Viking and Medieval history at the Dublinia. After an amazing 5 days in Ireland, it was time to return to England to start planning more travels!

I am lucky. There is no denying it. You may be thinking that’s obvious… I had the opportunity to leave my job and travel through Europe… that’s lucky enough! But I am also lucky in a lot of other ways too! In 2009, my job relocated me to Philadelphia. I was excited about moving back to the north from Atlanta but the truth was I didn’t know anyone in Philly. I decided to take my chances with craigslist in hopes of finding a roomie and hopefully a friend too… And I was lucky enough to find both in the very first apartment that I looked at! Meeting Aimee, my Philly roommate, made my move and transition into Philadelphia life a whole lot easier and through the process we became good friends even after I moved into a different apartment. During the two years I lived in Philadelphia we shared a lot of great times including the time she met her now boyfriend, Jon (at my apartment)! You may be thinking what does all of this have to do with this blog about eating and traveling…. But what it comes down to is this… By meeting my great friend, Aimee, I ended up meeting her great boyfriend, Jon, who happened to be working in Europe this summer. Jon had 2 free weekends during his time over in Europe and he was looking to do some traveling and exploring which meant I got to trash my title of solo traveller for two whole trips and explore Paris and Dublin with a travel buddy who I never would have met if it wasn’t for a random ad on craigslist that I responded to… once upon a time!

I woke early on a Friday morning and headed to London (once again) to catch the Eurostar to Paris! I had another “it’s a small world” moment as I was boarding my train when I ran into an old friend from high school who has been studying in England and is now doing some traveling herself! These run-in’s still continue to amaze me! The other thing that still amazes me is the Eurostar itself…. London to Paris in just 2 hours via a tunnel dug under the English Channel… Who would have thought? Anyways, moving on! I arrived at Gare du Nord just a couple of hours later to start my Parisian adventures. I have been to Paris a few times before but I always find that there is something different to see each time I explore a city. Upon arrival, I put my french skills to test as I ordered a ham and cheese baguette (obvi…!) and bought myself a metro ticket before figuring out how to get to Jon’s hotel. That’s another “lucky me” moment… Jon was kind enough to let me stay with him at his company paid hotel so I didn’t have to slum it at a hostel like usual! After killing some time at Starbuck’s (I know, so wrong in Paris…. But I was giving Jon some time to nap off his jetlag!), I put my sense of direction skills to test and found the Terass Hotel in Montmatre. After catching up and getting ourselves together, we headed out into the beautiful, warm, sunny, Parisian evening… the ONLY good weather we had the WHOLE weekend… But, I can’t complain… We were in Paris! We strolled down the Seine and past the Musee D’Orsay before arriving at Le Vin de Bellechasse (http://www.paris-bistro.com/vin/bistrovin/bistrot_bellechasse.html) for one of the most delicious meals ever! We shared an eggplant, roasted red peppers and goat cheese appetizer that was to die for. For the main course, I had the classic steak frites which was accompanied with a perfect garlic butter and the meal was complete with a wonderful glass of french red wine! After dinner we strolled back down by the Seine as the sun set and stumbled across the Eiffel Tower as it was all lit up for the night.

On Saturday morning, after a breakfast full of croissants and nutella, we started to head out of the hotel to find that it was pouring rain so after an outfit swap and change of plans to accommodate the weather we finally headed to Gallerie Lafayette to do some shopping. After helping Jon find some gifts to take home, we perused the extensive gourmet wine section and selected a bottle to have with a picnic lunch in the gardens in front of the Louvre. We then stocked up on cheese, prosciutto and baguettes and headed towards our picnic location…. But not before searching high and low for a corkscrew under 30 euro! A delicious bottle of red wine is not very useful without a corkscrew…. and our search for one was proving unsuccessful… until we stopped in at a souvenir shop right before we got to the park and were lucky enough to locate the ONE corkscrew they had for sale…. only 7 euro and it was a souvenir of Paris! Thankfully the rain held off so we were able to enjoy our picnic and bottle of red! Nicely buzzed, we headed over to the Louvre to take some photos before hopping on the Batobus to take us down the Seine to see views of everything from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame. We then explored the streets around Notre Dame and took a long walk back to the metro before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Of course, as soon as we were getting ready to walk out the door the heavens opened and we were faced with a monsoon. Luckily for Jon, I had a raincoat so I let him borrow my very girly cherry umbrella! He will deny it… But it was his best friend for the weekend! Despite the raincoat and umbrella, we were both absolutely soaked by the time we got to Les Refuges de Fondues (http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d779422-Reviews-Le_Refuge_des_Fondues-Paris_Ile_de_France.html) – a very  quaint, fun fondue place that I visited when I was in Paris in 2006. This place is very basic… All inclusive cocktail, appetizer, cheese fondue, dessert and all you can drink wine… served in baby bottles (apparently to avoid paying a tax for serving wine in glasses)! This restaurant is an experience and packed every single night! It consists of 2 long tables and not much space so while you are waiting for a table… you have to wait outside… which we did… in the pouring rain! And once you get into the restaurant, you have to literally climb over the table to get to your seat. The walls are covered in “graffiti” from previous guests signing there name or writing notes all over the walls but it’s what gives the place character… as does the crazy parisians that run the place! Despite the close quarters, we enjoyed the meal, the experience and making friends with our american and italian neighbors. It was still raining when we left the restaurant and it continued to rain on and off for the remainder of our trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, there was more sightseeing to be done including the Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge, the Arc de Triumphe and another look at the Eiffel Tower. We also enjoyed stolling around the artist market near the Sacre Coeur and taking advantage of our batobus ticket with another ride on the boat down the Seine before going in search for a croque monsieur/madame and same crepes! By this point, all the walking had worn us out so we decided to take the evening easy and went to dinner at this place near our hotel in Montmatre – Un Zebra a Montmatre. On Monday morning, Jon left for the UK for work and I had one final day in Paris to explore the city solo. Unfortunately, it was still raining… So I spent the day wandering aimlessly through the streets of Paris and stumbled across a flower market and the Pompidou. By the time I caught my train back to London that evening I was absolutely exhausted and tired of being “englished” (a wonderfully witty term meaning spoken to in english when you’ve spoken in french) so I was ready for a 2 day break before heading to Ireland!

With an early 5am wake up on Tuesday, I began my adventure to Porto, Portugal. After traveling to the airport by bus, flying to Porto and taking the metro into the city, I finally made it to the Dixo Oporto Hostel by around 1pm. Anyone traveling to this delightful city must stay at Dixo’s (http://dixosoportohostel.com/)! This hostel only just opened in November and is located in a restored building dating back to the 14th century. The people are extremely friendly, the place is amazingly clean and well decorated and they even have free breakfast and free wi fi! What more could you ask for! It is also located in the heart of historic Porto just minutes from the bank of the Duoro river. When I arrived in Porto, I headed down to the river to start my explorations. The weather was perfectly, warm and sunny and the views were beautiful. On Tuesday, I also did a mini tour of other parts of the city and Gaia (the other side of the river) so that I could get a feel for what I wanted to do during my stay. Additionally, I stumbled across the Photography Museum which is located in an old prison. By the evening, I was worn out from all of my touring and early start so I decided to locate dinner. I came to Porto with only a few recommendations and no guidebook, so I was flying blind in terms of what to do and where to eat… but that’s all part of the adventure! I didn’t want to fall into the tourist traps of overpriced and underwhelming food so I was on the hunt for a decent restaurant when I came across PIMMS (http://www.pimms.com.pt/). This restaurant was located minutes from my hostel and only a few steps from the Duoro river but it wasn’t nearly as touristy as the places right on the water. The food was outstanding and very reasonably priced and the service was great! I ordered the spring papperdelle which was fresh pasta with mozzarella and tomatoes…. so amazing that I came back and ordered this same thing on my last day… no joke! I also unintentionally ordered Super Bock Tango beer which turned out to be a delicious red currant infused pink beer… Sometimes language barriers work out in my favor!

After dinner, I headed back to my hostel and met my new roommate/bunk mate who was traveling solo through Europe from Korea. We had breakfast together the following morning before I headed back out to continue my explorations of Porto. I walked over the bridge to Gaia in search of the Port Wine Lodges and after following the signs up windy, steep, roads I came across both the Croft and Taylor Port Lodges. I had the chance to tour both places and learn about how Port is made as well as sample both some ruby and white port… all for free! I have to say compared to Barcelona, Porto was extremely inexpensive! During my port tastings, I also met some interesting people from India and Sweden… Making friends with strangers in foreign countries is a really cool part of this experience. Nicely buzzed from all of the port tastings, I stumbled back down to the water side to find lunch before heading out to see some of Porto’s beaches and the atlantic coast of Portugal.

I later headed back to my hostel and met some more new roommates from Korea who I ended up going to dinner with. We went to this portuguese restaurant (unfortunately, I didn’t take note of the name) and I sampled the Balcalhau which is a delicious, traditional portuguese cod fish. After dinner, my new friends and I conducted are own wine tasting back at the hostel! I have to say that making friends during my travels has got to be the best part of this adventure. It is surprising but comforting to know that there are tons of people traveling through Europe solo. The next morning I went to check out the Torre dos Clerigos and walked around the shopping district of Porto before taking a boat ride down the Duoro river. I then ran into one of my friends from the hostel and we wandered around by the river together before it was time for me to say goodbye to Porto and head back to the airport. Again, after many forms of transportation including 2 buses, metro and flight, I finally made it home to Oxford around 3:45am and crashed into my bed with a smile on my face from all of my awesome adventures!

I have been in England for just over a month and a half now and despite occasionally missing hot, summer days and Phillies games (and obviously friends), I haven’t been homesick for the USA but with the arrival of the 4th of July, I did have a pang of sadness with the thought of missing Independence Day celebrations and fireworks! However, my 4th of July was jam-packed with more reunions and London fun so I really can’t complain! With my little back pack packed for the week, I headed up to London on Monday morning to meet up with another good friend, Ulana, who I studied abroad with in Sydney, Australia back in 2006. She happened to be in London for a few days so it was the perfect time for us to reunite! We spent the day wandering through Hyde Park, lunching in South Kensington and dining in Covent Garden! But the best part of the day had to have been toasting to the 4th of July at the rooftop bar at the Trafalgar Hotel called Vista (http://www.thetrafalgar.com/vista-homepage/). On a sunny London day, I highly recommend this place! The atmosphere is very cool, the chairs very comfortable, the views outstanding and the drinks are delicious!

I went to a small, private all girls high school just outside of Baltimore, Maryland between the 7th and 12th grades and I cannot deny that the amazing experiences I had there helped shape who I am today. In fact, the people I met at the school probably helped develop my love for travel. The school was filled with ambitious, confident and intelligent students and teachers and since the school incorporated both boarding and day students, I had the opportunity to be friends with students from all around the world including places like Thailand, Mexico and Korea. Given the tight knit community which Garrison created combined with the ambitious and confident girls that it groomed, it is no surprise that there happens to be a substantial cohort of Garrison Alumni that now live in the UK. One of my very good friends, Tan, from Thailand had been studying at Cambridge for the past year and before she left the country, she helped arrange a reunion of Garrison Girls in London. The group of Garrison Girls in London met up at Leon in Ludgate Circus for a delightful evening of catching up and reminiscing about the good ol’ days at Garrison Forest. It’s always such a great feeling to meet up with old friends and things to feel exactly the same as they always did. It was almost as if we were just hanging out in the library at GFS instead of in a restaurant on the other side of the Atlantic. True to form, all of the Garrison Girls are do amazing things in London and beyond!

Later that week, I headed to Cambridge to visit Tan and her sister, Kate, so I could explore another city and attend Tan’s graduation from the prestigious institution of Cambridge University! I arrived on Friday evening and Tan and Kate gave me a tour of the town – I got to see everything from the Newton’s famous apple tree to the Corpus Clock and the place where DNA was discovered! We then had a relaxing evening back at their apartment where we ate pizza and watched movies and I really felt like I was back at boarding school with my good friends! The next day, Kate and I went to watch Tan graduate with her Master’s in Law at the Senate House. It was another perfect warm, sunny day and I was so happy that I could be there to celebrate with Tan!

The end of June in England brings the famed Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and, of course, strawberries and cream! Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is considered by some to be the most prestigious. It is held at the All England Club in the London suburb of Wimbledon during the end of June and early July every year. It is also the only major tennis tournament still played on grass courts. Wimbledon is also the only Grand Slam tournament where fans without tickets are able to queue up on the day of play to get into the grounds to watch matches and depending on how early you get in the queue – you can still get seats on Centre Court, Court 1 and Court 2. The Wimbledon Queue is a very traditional English experience and avid fans are even encouraged to camp out the night before to get the best tickets. Since I have always been a tennis fan and I happened to be in England during the time of the championships, I made the decision to brave the hot sun and wait in the queue on day 7 of the championships with hopes that I would make it into the grounds to see some tennis. I woke up at 5am and took 3 trains and a bus to get there but I finally arrived at the Wimbledon queue by 9am. Arriving at the time I did, I knew I wouldn’t have a chance at obtaining tickets for the show courts but waking up before 5am clearly wasn’t an option for me and I was happy just at the chance to experience the atmosphere of both the queue and the Wimbledon championships in general! When you get in line, you are handed a “queue card” which designates your number in line. My queue number was lucky 9079 which meant there were ONLY 9078 people in front of me waiting to get into the grounds… No big deal! Unfortunately, the capacity of Wimbledon is only approximately 8500 which means once it is full the system changes to one in one out so I knew I had a long day of waiting ahead of me! Fortunately, the weather did not follow true Wimbledon fashion of pouring rain but instead I happened to choose to go to Wimbledon on the hottest day that England has seen all year! The queuing system is actually very organized with special stewards directing you on where to go. Essentially, the queue forms in a field close to the Wimbledon grounds and you can sit in the grass until the queue starts to move. The only problem with sitting in the middle of a field on the hottest day of the year (90 degrees plus) is that there is absolutely no shade. However, the Wimbledon queue is all about the experience and you can’t take it too seriously. If you join the Wimbledon queue, you have to be prepared to wait but it will be worth it! People come from all over the world to partake in the experience and you get to meet so many interesting people along the way! Just after 3pm, after waiting in the queue for over 6 hours, I finally made it into the Wimbledon grounds and it was time to locate some strawberries and cream and watch some tennis! I watched a little of the Andy Murray match from Murray Mound (previously named Henman Hill) and I had a chance to watch the Bryan brothers play doubles on court 18. The American Bryan Brothers actually went on to win the Gentlemen’s Doubles portion of the tournament. Additionally, I watched some of the Juniors matches and I saw the Australian Ashleigh Barty play on court 4. She also went on to win the Girls’ Singles portion of the tournament. All in all, despite the long wait and the hot weather, the day was success!

After Barcelona, I had a relaxing weekend in Oxford before heading to Windsor Castle on Monday for Garter Day! The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry or knighthood existing in England. It was founded in 1348 and can only have 24 members at any given time. The Order of the Garter holds services in St George’s Chapel each June, on the Monday of Royal Ascot Week. During the day, the members of the Order, wearing their ceremonial dress, process on foot through Windsor Castle to St. George’s Chapel for the service. If there are new knights, they are installed on this occasion. After the service, the members then process back through the castle by carriage. Kiri and Richard have a good friend, also named Richard, that is the Assistant Director of Music of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. One of the major perks of working in Windsor Castle is his amazing flat which is also located inside the castle grounds and he was kind enough to invite us all for Garter Day… You have to have tickets to get in so we were very lucky to have such an invitation! All dressed up, we arrived at Windsor Castle and headed to his flat for champagne and lunch! After enjoying the pre-festivities, we headed out onto the lawn to snag a prime view of the procession. It was amazing to watch the Military Knights of Windsor proceed through the castle followed by the Knights and Ladies of the Garter. Some of the famous faces we got to see included the Queen, Prince William and Prince Charles! Once the procession was over, we could hear the service going on in the chapel. Richard was partaking in the service so we were also able to hear him play the organ from outside the chapel. After the service ended, the members processed back through the Castle this time accompanied by their spouses and via carriage! My favorite moment of the day was sneaking a glimpse of Kate Middleton! She looked beautiful! All in all, a wonderful and exciting day… We even lucked out with warm and sunny weather!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I headed to Portsmouth for the rest of the week to hang out with my Grandma. I feel blessed that I am able to spend time with her over the next few months since I don’t get to see her often. On Thursday, I accompanied her on a day trip with her “Blind Club” – we went to Stansted House which is a beautiful Edwardian country house set in a 1750 acre park. We had the opportunity to see the gardens and tour the house followed by a delicious traditional English cream tea! It was a delight to explore the estate and get to meet so many of my Grandma’s friends!

On Friday, I returned home to Oxford almost 3 hours later than expected due to bad weather and traffic – but we still managed to make it out to dinner at Atomic Burger in Oxford (http://atomicburger.co.uk/). The name is pretty self explanatory – it’s a burger restaurant… and they are delicious! I tried the Dead Elvis which came with swiss cheese, american cheese, bacon and onions but I decided against going “atomic” like the guys we were with. “Going Atomic” means making it a double stack plus 3 side orders…. way too much food… but tasty nonetheless!

Saturday evening I headed to London to go out for my cousin’s roommates birthday party. We headed to Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen (http://www.hoxtonsquarebar.com/) for dinner, drinks and dancing and a fun night of reunions! My cousin, Oli, knows his roommate through a summer internship in Washington DC so I met him and some of their other friends back in 2007 and quite a few of the DC friends were at the party so it was nice to meet up with everyone again! After far too many drinks, I called it a night in preparation for Sunday’s festivities which included “Taste of London” – a food festival involving cuisine from some of London’s top restaurants – all in Regent’s Park. I sampled things from duck breast to rose sorbet… and even caught a glimpse of Gwyneth Paltrow who was promoting a new cookbook!

I seem to be getting used to my new found freedom and am not feeling so lost anymore! I always seem to find some new adventure to keep me busy and am looking forward to many more!