NYC in a nutshell: An experience of a lifetime

Notes From Another Land / NYC in a nutshell: Things to DO

Or as I should call it, how to cope in subzero temperatures during one of the coldest winters in a decade to hit the Big Apple:

“You’re in New York! The city of dreams! Even if it’s -15°C, you should be outside in the great outdoors exploring!”

These are all inside thoughts I had while brisk walking up and down, over and across the grid-like streets in a very frosty February. When my layers stopped doing their job and I needed a break from the relentless windchill, these are a few places I ducked into. Some of them I even got dolled up for and wore tights and a dress in the hopes that I would lose feeling in my legs quick enough that by the time I reached my venue of choice, it would all be worth it.

“Because I was in New York! The city of dreams!”

Now while we did hit up our fair share of tourist attractions, I will be saving that for NYC in a nutshell post #4 – Things to SEE. These are things I DID. And while all things I saw and did were an experience in their own right, these involved me emotionally, physically and financially. Because we all know Manhattan isn’t budget friendly but it is worth it!

Let’s start with the main reason I made the trip across the Atlantic: Social Media Week NYC.

Five days of live and live streamed sessions for 10,000 delegates in the Meatpacking District – it was full on and full of interesting content to be absorbed from industry experts and influencers.

Notes From Another Land / NYC in a nutshell: Social Media Week
Social Media Week NYC

Once you wrap your head around that schedule of events crammed into one week with so many sessions to absorb and implement in your workplace, your life and your future start-up plans, you need to balance the enormity of it all with some classic must-do NYC experiences.

Notes From Another Land / NYC in a nutshell: NY Knicks at Madison Square Garden
NY Knicks at Madison Square Garden

Things to DO in Manhattan:

Get artsy. On my first night in the city, I got dolled up for a cocktail-party ‘Show your love’ fundraiser for the Irish Arts Center at the Mutual of America building, where I caught up with a friend from Ottawa and supported an organisation that’s been doing great things for the Irish Arts for 40+ years.

Check out The Garden. The next night was dedicated to attending the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden: yes, they lost against Miami Heat (and it was to be expected as my Canadian/American seat neighbours informed me) but we did see 50 Cent, The Strokes, the Momma from Gossip Girl, a court side proposal (accepted – win!) and an odd acrobatics/gymnastic duo…big bang for your buck.

Visit Broadway. Everyone needs to see a show while they’re in New York! We chose The Book of Mormon and it was a great night, the cast was hilarious and at times you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. Maybe not a good first date show, unless you want to be clear right off the bat you have the same sense of humour, but it was quite the experience to have.

Explore the outdoors. While I didn’t go ice skating in Central Park, of course I do need to mention it as something you could do since I have used a photo of delighted skaters to lure you in. Call me a spoiled Canadian but when you grow up with ice in your backyard for six months of the year, the heart doesn’t scream “pay for a slice of that ice!” just because you’re in New York. It was a beautiful (and freezing) Sunday when I took that snap and if you have never skated in your life, this would definitely be the place to try it out!

Treat yourself. Since I will have a whole blog post dedicated to shopping, this one is only about an experience that involved indulging myself on my last day in the city with a trip to The Drybar for a pre-final night in NYC/pre-early morning flight blow out to bring me into the weekend. And let me tell you this, they promise a cocktail of grooming options (I went for Southern Comfort) and for under $50 in 60 minutes, you walk in frazzled and walk out fab. I dressed up for the occasion and can completely understand why the ladies of Manhattan book in for their morning blow dry before attending to their morning schedule. With fruit infused water, champagne on order and who knows how many chairs on the go, this place is open from 7am and they mean business. Crazily enough, a month after I arrived back in my small town in Kildare, this chain had a sign in a shop window – – – yes ladies, The Drybar is catching on in Ireland too!

And on that note, I will leave you until my next post about shopping in Manhattan – please do share any tips or memorable experiences you’ve had in NYC via the comments below. 🙂

NYC in a nutshell: Food and drink

Notes From Another Land / NYC in a nutshell: Thing to TASTE

NYC in a nutshell: We all know there are heaps of blog posts, TripAdvisor reviews and Instagrams floating around the WWW tempting you to eat out, sample cocktails, order take away or try new recipes at home. I believe the scientific term for this is: food porn.

Now I am guilty of the odd FP snap so I will share a few with you on this post, but what I mainly want to do is reminisce about what I ate and drank while I was in NYC for 10 days, with some links to guide you if need be.

So let’s just go in order of meals shall we?

Breakfast – otherwise known as my favourite meal of the day

I was guilty of filling this meal slot on most mornings with an American staple: toasted bagel, cream cheese and a cup of coffee. Nothing fancy and I’m sorry to disappoint the baked goods connoisseurs out there, but most days it was of the wholewheat variety from Starbucks complimented by an Americano with a shot of hazlenut. Cheap, cheerful, close by and it did the job. Moving along…..

A couple of other breakfast spots I frequented:

  • Nectar Cafe near the Met and Central Park, a traditional diner surrounded by large windows for people watching on Madison Avenue with decent prices near the touristy spots
  • The Grey Dog had a nice breakfast quesadilla and good flat white coffee, all a stone’s throw from Union Square and it was buzzing on a weekday during brunch!

Lunch

A few places of note if you’re travelling in a group or meeting someone for a bite to eat:

  • Check out Chelsea Market for food and shopping under one roof near the Highline – my delicious grilled cheese (gruyere, white cheddar, bacon and caramelised onions on ciabatta with a dill pickle on the side) pictured above was from Friedman’s Lunch
  • Gotham West Market is a new foodie destination serving craft beers in a cosy atmosphere
  • Eataly is chock full of multi-storey Italian deliciousness: pop in for a quick espresso and take away from their market or stay and enjoy a glass of wine over a shared cured meat and cheese board from one of their restaurants as we did – they also sell their sauces, ingredients and produce so you can do your weekly shop there too!
  • ABC Kitchen offers farm to table fare and plenty of inspiration in one building near Union Square’s funky design shops
Notes From Another Land / Gotham West Market NYC
Gotham West Market

Dinner

Because let’s be fair, every girl needs to treat herself to a nice dinner. Great food, service and conversation were enjoyed at all of these spots:

  • Balthazar bistro in NY has been open since 1997 and is very popular (call ahead to reserve a table) and lucky me, there’s a location in London too!
  • Natsumi offers up tasty Japanese in the Theatre District where we grabbed a bite to eat after seeing a Broadway show
  • Buddakan was featured in Sex and the City (of course) and again, you need to book ahead to visit their intimate dining room but it’s well worth it just to sneak a peek at the well heeled diners to your left and right and marvel at all of their intricate wood panelling – just how much joinery did they use to decroate that place?
  • Shake Shack for those who love great burgers, crinkle cut french fries and frothy milkshakes
Notes From Another Land / Shake Shack NYC
Shake Shack

Sweets

  • What’s a trip to the Big Apple without a stop at Magnolia Bakery? If it’s good enough for the celebs, it’s good enough for me. I tried a red velvet cupcake and my friend had their famous banana pudding (mmmhmmm)
  • We enjoyed some cute LDV Hospitality emoji sugar cookies courtesy of Social Media Week – you can also learn how to make your own with this emoji cookie recipe
  • We stopped at the M&M’s World Store in Times Square to stock up on airplane treats (me) and gifts for friends and family (the others…what were they thinking?)
Notes From Another Land / Social Media Week NYC Emoji Cookie
Social Media Week NYC Emoji Cookie

Drinks

  • Don’t Tell Mama NYC – a friend tipped me off to this long and narrow piano bar off Restaurant Row near Times Square and I loved it! Cocktails were the standard price for Manhattan ($12-15) except the bartenders and wait staff are all off Broadway singers so you get serenaded while they serve you drinks
  • 230 Fifth has a rooftop bar/penthouse lounge with glorious views of the Empire State Building, decent cocktails and NO COVER. Since it was freezing while we were there, we didn’t go outside for too long but if you wanted to hang out in -15 during winter and sip your mojito, they offer complimentary furry capes and heat lamps on the rooftop to help you enjoy the views!
  • Joshua Tree Bar: an Irish influenced sports bar where I met my friend for a few drinks and a bit of casual beer pong with some strangers on a weeknight. A bit more suited to the college or knock off drinks crowd but with a laid back atmosphere and good prices near our hotel, where could you go wrong? Oh right, playing beer pong for the first time in 5 years…
  • Don’t worry kids, I made up for my college antics at The Ginger Man over some aged scotch and social media conversation with a lovely lass I met at the conference. MUCH closer to Madison Avenue and MUCH classier, but better suited to any business catch ups you may be planning while you’re there!
Notes From Another Land / Eataly NYC
Eataly NYC

Next time I’m in NYC:

  • I will be stopping in at one of Sarabeth’s locations to sample their lemon ricotta pancakes
  • Booking in a catch up with friends over a boozy brunch at Agave in the West Village (one dish and all you can drink Bloody Mary’s, mimosas and the like for $28!)
  • Venturing over the bridge to Brooklyn for some eggs Ben-a-Dizz at Dizzy’s, comfort food at Buttermilk Channel and picking up a sweet treat from Ladybird Bakery
  • I might bring the hubby for a tour of Wall Street and splurge on lunch at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in TriBeCa
  • Then redeem ourselves with an Organic Vegan dish the next day at Blossom in Chelsea
  • Burritos or soft shell tacos are always a welcome choice: I will be adding Taco Chulo in Brooklyn to my list!
  • Booking in at Please Don’t Tell, a speakeasy you gain access to by calling ahead after 3pm that day and entering via a phone booth
  • Sampling pints at McSorley’s Old Ale House – one of the oldest pubs in NYC with a small taste of Ireland: I hear there’s sawdust on the floor and apparently Frank McCourt has frequented it

That’s all for food and drink sampling in NYC for now – please do share any tips or great places you’ve happened upon in the comments below, as I have a feeling I will be back soon!

Next up for NYC in a nutshell: Things to DO.

NYC in a nutshell

Notes From Another Land / New York City in a nutshell

I made the trip to New York from Dublin in February for 10 days – it was a mix of business and pleasure as I caught up with Aussie colleagues and friends living in the city.

We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Chandler in Midtown Manhattan near the Flatiron District and spent the weekend before the Social Media Week festivities kicked off exploring Manhattan. The event took place at Highline Stages in the Meatpacking District and around town which kept us busy for five days but we made the most of our central location to check out a few sights along the way!

I will be writing five posts to highlight my time in NYC, breaking it into ‘Things to’:

  • Taste
  • Do
  • Shop
  • See
  • Bring

Whether you’re looking for places to eat or meet for a casual drink, have a serious case of travel wanderlust or seeking advice on what to pack when the temperatures plunge below zero on your next trip – these Manhattan posts should have you covered!

Chance encounters: New York, Ireland and up in the air

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Notes From Another Land / New York City

Part of this blog is meant to highlight the fact I often find myself engaged in conversation with complete strangers.

So before I detail what I did, ate, drank, saw and explored during my 20-day stint in New York City, Toronto and Ottawa, let me introduce you to three chance encounters I’ve had over the past month.

1) In which I got a rare glimpse of Irish history in New York
I met an old friend (on purpose) when I attended a fundraiser for the Irish Arts Center in New York. She is well connected to the community there and gave me the red hot tip on the American Irish Historical Association. It’s open weekdays for tours to the general public and is well positioned across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art off 80th St E and Fifth Avenue. I was staying between Madison and Fifth on 31st St so I took a beautiful stroll past all of the shops on Fifth and alongside Central Park to ring the doorbell at what looked like a private residence.

Notes From Another Land / American Irish Historical Association in New York City

I was treated to a short but private tour of the building and its’ artefacts which include Wolftone’s death mask, a copy of the proclamation and the original tricolour which hung outside the GPO in Dublin during the Easter Rising. All on display in the Society’s grand rooms which are fitted out with the finest of Irish craftsmanship, Waterford crystal chandeliers and all. What a gem of a find in a city full of pay-as-you-go tourist attractions where you need to use your elbows to see what you’re there for! If you’re ever in NYC and have an interest in Irish history, design or architecture, visit this original home which is now in the care of the AIHS – you can even become a Member if you desire.

Notes From Another Land / American Irish Historical Association in New York City

Notes From Another Land / American Irish Historical Association in New York City

Notes From Another Land / American Irish Historical Association in New York City

2) In which I share a cross-Atlantic journey with a Clondalkin cyclist
My flight from JFK to Dublin found me sat beside an Irish man wearing a ninja turtles t-shirt who was on his way home after cycling across 48 of the United States over the past year.

Notes From Another Land / New York City JFK Airport

We spent the majority of the flight talking about his experiences on the road and his encounters with friendly strangers found via the Warm Showers website (couch surfing for cyclists – who knew!?) They gave him a free bed, a warm meal and an open ear for his stories.

This guy plans to write and self-publish a book about his experiences and it just so happens I attended a session on marketing your writing, which was hosted by Your Expert Nation as part of Social Media Week NYC. So I discussed the pros and cons of self versus traditional publishing with him, laughed about his cycling adventures and misadventures and talked about the old country (Ireland). He aims to settle back into life in Dublin after his whirlwind trip and even invited me to his 30th birthday party in June. Maybe he’ll have a first draft of his manuscript for me to proof!

3) In which I share an afternoon with my favourite Kildare cafe owner and Paddy Casey
Over the past 14 months I have been living in and working remotely from County Kildare in Ireland. When I needed a nice cuppa, a bowl of homemade soup and a chat, I always ventured down the little pathway off Main Street Naas to Alice’s Restaurant.

The owner, Eibhlin, has to be the loveliest person in Kildare. She always remembers her patrons names, backgrounds, favourite dishes and has been operating out of The Moat Mall for over 20 years. Not only is she catering to gluten-free and health conscious visitors, she is also a wealth of knowledge on local business, culture and the Arts. She always delighted in asking me where I was going or coming from and is the type of person every expat would love to meet in their new home abroad.

On my last visit to Alice’s, I spent the late afternoon chatting with Eibhlin and Paddy Casey. He has previously performed there during one of Eibhlin’s live music gigs she hosts every couple of months and often pops in for a bite to eat.

For those of you who don’t know Mr. Casey, he is an award-winning Irish musician, well known for his song Saints & Sinners. You should check him out if you haven’t listened to his tracks, he even has a new album out and is touring this spring and summer across Ireland.

We didn’t speak of his music or albums but I was discussing the Irish Arts Center with Eibhlin as part of my recent trip to NYC and I asked if he’d ever played a gig for them. He said he’d met with them a few times but hasn’t been to the venue yet – maybe as part of his new album launch he’ll be coming to the Big Apple in the near future! He asked me about Ottawa’s arctic temperatures, we talked about Irish weather (the good ‘ol conversation staple) and then I went on my merry way.

In a small town of 20,000 people in Ireland, you can have a normal conversation with a celebrated musician, while having good banter with a local business owner. That is what I love about this country.

Lastly, here are some lovely photos and a few tips for those who’ve never been to County Kildare:

When you’re finished your lunch at Alice’s Restaurant at The Moat Mall, stop in at The Duck & Cup Cafe on a Friday afternoon from 2pm to sip your coffee to the tune of a local pianist.

Notes From Another Land / Remote Work in Naas Co. Kildare

It’s just outside Kildare in neighbouring County Wicklow but close enough! Get back to nature and take a weekend stroll with views of the Wicklow Mountains, Blessington Lakes and the imposing Russborough House.

Notes From Another Land / Remote Work in Naas Co. Kildare

Happy Easter and enjoy your long weekend wherever you may be!

Weekend getaway: Barcelona

The husband decided for my birthday in November that the gift of two tickets to the sunny, artsy and delicious paradise that is Barcelona was just what I needed. And boy, was he right!

We walk a lot and I stop for photos often. We also stop for coffee, beer, snacks and sitting breaks but I believe the best way to explore new cities is on foot.

Humour me as I take you through another mini photo essay of an exotic European destination. This time, it’s an early Friday to late Sunday evening excursion to Spain.

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We took off from chilly grey skies in Dublin and due to high winds, touched down in Barcelona in under three hours.

He had booked us a hotel near La Rambla Boulevard, a walking strip full of shops, restaurants and market stalls that cuts through the city centre. There are alleyways jutting out from this tourist landmark that take you down a cobblestone maze of melt in your mouth deli/pastry shop crosses, tapas restaurants, souvenir stores and more.

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Since we arrived mid-morning, we took a leisurely stroll with our small bags from the train through the Parc de la Ciutadella, en route to the Port Olimpic Marina and beach.

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The park has a zoo (which we did not visit) but for January, the gardens were lovely and reminded me of Brisbane in winter!

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The imposing Catalan Parliament building is a focal point in the park.

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I did not Photoshop these photos, let’s just stare in amazement at the vivid colours captured by my mobile’s camera.

Doesn’t it make you want to escape the winter blues and jet off to Spain? As I write this in an Irish pub, sipping on my Smithwicks, a Spanish guitar medley is quietly playing in the background…I’m taking this as a sign I’m meant to go back. Or maybe not order that second beer?

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No, no I’m meant to go back, my pink coat didn’t stand out as much amongst Barcelona’s bright colours.

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The jacaranda tree! Can you see it? I haven’t set eyes on one of those lovely purple flowering trees since Australia! Or at least it looks like a close cousin of the jacaranda. Apparently in Barcelona, they also have their very own Arco de Triunfo, Google tells me it was built in 1888 for the World Expo. They even put lovely cycle trails leading up to it! Hot tip: in this area we ate at a deli cafe that was about half the price and just as delicious as anything you’ll find near La Rambla. More Euros for more manchego I say!

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I’m a tad embarrassed to say we happened upon the beautifully preserved subterranean ruins and cultural centre that is Mercat Del Born. It cost €84 million and took 12 years for them to renovate and reopen this gem…good thing our excellent tourist compasses were on high alert that day! We stopped in for a sticky beak and then moseyed on over to the Picasso Museum.

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There are a few different fee and tour options to choose from, we went with the one that gave us access to the current photography exhibition of Pablo Picasso at work in his home, as well as the regular collection on site. A couple of hours in and our appetites and the lure of the blue sky had us walking up La Rambla again.

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We stopped in for some manchego and sangria at Els 4 Gats, the famous cafe/hostel/cabaret/pub/restaurant hot spot for all of the contemporary figures living in and frequenting Barcelona in 1897 – Picasso himself was a regular!

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The next day we tried to squeeze in as much Gaudi architecture and local culture as possible via a hop on, hop off tour. We stopped at the massive Sagrada Familia Basilica which is always undergoing upkeep and is jaw droppingly, well, just look at the picture. I’m no design expert but you can see why it’s the city’s number one tourist destination.

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This is just the outside of a building near the Basilica, I thought I’d take a mini mental Gaudi break. Plus it’s cute, now you know where my knowledge of architecture sits on the high brow culture scale.

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Let’s call this one the stone gingerbread house. Does anyone else see it? This is outside Parc Guell, another magical and mystical Gaudi creation!

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I’m sure if you Google Parc Guell, a similar shot will appear. Take comfort in the fact this one is fresh from 2015 courtesy of my camera phone (as you can see from the objects poking in on either side…I need to work on my rule of thirds).

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Another shot from Parc Guell. So. Much. To. Look. At. In. One. Place.

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I am not a huge sports fan and the husband had already been twice, so I only snapped a fleeting photo of the FC Barcelona stadium…sorry Barca fans! To make matters worse, they had a match on Sunday night when we were flying out and we only discovered it that day, the horror.

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Our trip ended with an afternoon spent down by the Marina Port Vell, full of docked yachts and tasty restaurants with patio seating spilling out in the sunshine. We dined on tapas, mojitos and sat happily in the warm, blissful rays. Except for when somebody in a Barcelona jersey passed and my husband got ‘the look’*.

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All in all, a perfect dose of sun, sea and sangria to remedy the mid-winter blues. I will definitely go back at some point but for now, a three day stint in Barcelona gave me a few great Zara staples, an arts and culture fix and a much needed vacation!

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*’The look’ means, I might miss our flight to go to the match. No wait, it’s your birthday present. But we’re in Barcelona…so I might as well go to the match.

For the record: we took the flight back to Dublin that night. I am now researching tickets for future sporting events, all suggestions welcome!

The magical beauty of Prague

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

When Ryanair emailed me with a seat sale from Dublin to Prague, I booked a return ticket for early December faster than you could say, “Czech out that price!”

All joking aside, I had visions of old world charm and culture enveloped in a blanket of powdery snow and twinkling lights. And let me tell you, this UNESCO World Heritage site didn’t disappoint.

As someone who locks their door promptly from the inside once home, the potential dangers of visiting the Czech Republic never crossed my mind. It was only after booking my four day, three night pre-Christmas escape that I heard warnings of pickpockets, passport theft and the like. Call me desensitised to the petty crimes of Europe but I tend to be guarded with my belongings on most days, despite flitting about on foot snapping candid photos of things that strike me.

It also helped that I planned on meeting my friend and former roommate from Canada upon arriving in Prague. She was taking a train from Berlin, as she had been living in Germany for the past year. She assured me we would be well prepared and my husband told me to just pretend I was on the Red Luas Line in Dublin. Ok, no he didn’t but I pretended anyway.

Now that you are no longer concerned with our safety, let’s get back to the majestic city that is Prague.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

We arrived in the evening and checked into our accommodation at Hotel Elysee a stone’s throw from the imposing Wenceslas Square in the New Town. As one of the main centres of business there were plenty of shops, restaurants and bars nearby. There was even a small Christmas market set up in the centre of the main street, en route to the Old Town Square.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

We spent the first night at the Restaurant Café Svatého Václava where we dined on traditional Czech goulash and sampled their Pilsner Urquell. Did you know the people of this Bohemian capital refer to their brews as ‘liquid bread’? Their love of a good pint also has their nation at the top of the worldwide list for beer consumption!

The exchange rate was 0.27CZK = €1 and I found many beers were under 0.50CZK. You can’t imagine how pleased I was with my budgeting skills! When it’s cheaper for a refreshing glass of locally brewed ale than an espresso, you know you’re going to have a great vacation.

Now what did we do besides tuck into hearty dishes and sip on cheap beer, you ask? We walked around the Old Town, shopped at the Christmas markets and took a trip to Prague Castle and the ‘Lesser Quarter’ of course. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the largest ancient castle in the world.

We bought a handy two-day pass in order to space out the anticipated onset of culture and pace ourselves for what would surely be a lot of ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’, accompanied by prime photo opportunities. In between breaking for Czech beers, pastries and hot chocolates.

Since I snapped so many pics along the way, let’s look through how we experienced Prague.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

We walked across the Vltava river on the big Charles Bridge. At 600+ years old, it’s holding up pretty well. We often stopped to marvel at the 30 statues along the way, many of them covered with perching birds – I thought it added to the drama.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

After multiple photo stops, some of which we were being nice tourists for and photographing other groups of foreigners on request, we arrived at the end of the bridge and entered the Lesser Town.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

It’s a visual delight of rows upon rows of colourful antique, souvenir and trinket shops. Cars are squeezed along both sides of the road and the street itself creeps slightly uphill towards the castle. But don’t worry, those cute window displays and intricate mosaic tiled sidewalks are enough to distract you from your burning thighs. We stopped in for a snack at U Dvou slunců which is according to Google translate, named the ‘Two Suns Inn’ which dates back to the 17th century and is considered the oldest inn in the Lesser Town. Its’ walls were decorated with old armour and it was once the residence of Czech writer, Jan Neruda, for most of his life. Good food, cheap beer? Tick, tick. We finished up and went on our merry way.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

Prague tip #1: remember to look down at the tiles, not because they are uneven like some of the cobblestone streets in Ireland’s tourist traps, oh no. They are lovely and flat and change so often, it’s basically a free treat.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

Prague tip #2: Don’t stare at the ground so often that you miss the doors. I love me a good coloured Georgian Dublin door, a stained glass window detail or a cute letterbox but the Czech have taken it to another level. There are angelic faces adorning the tops of doors. Fancy wrought iron and silver door knockers and keyholes. Studded panels so shiny you’d swear they were just varnished yesterday. The overall detail on the buildings in Prague is something to be in awe of but those doors just make you want to knock. And be warmly welcomed in to explore. Don’t worry, we didn’t do it…that would be so un-Czech.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

When I saw snow, I took a photo – it has a tendency to melt on the Emerald Isle and I needed my winter fix (only a Canadian would understand).

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

Then we hiked up what seemed like 500 stairs to gain access to the illustrious Prague Castle. For those who don’t like stairs, you can also walk up the adjacent street on an incline – we did that on one of the days and then took the stairs for a change of scenery.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

How’s that for an entrance gate? Underneath these sword-fighting sculptures, soldiers were marching in the courtyard with their fur hats and bayonets. Our two-day ticket gave us access to the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague Castle and the Picture Gallery, Basilica of St. George, Treasury and South Tower of St. Vitus Cathedral and the Cathedral itself, Golden Lane, Rosenburg Palace and the Powder Tower. Phew! It cost a grand total of 250CZK. That’s under €10 for two days of solid history entertainment! Bring your walking shoes and you’ll be happy out.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

We walked around the gaping rooms of St. Vitus Cathedral, the biggest church in the country. Here you will find the relics of Saint Wenceslas in the chapel of the same name. They also keep the Czech Crown Jewels locked away here, which go on public display once every eight years.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

When you round the corner inside the Cathedral, you are met by the startling Royal Mausoleum with very detailed silver sculptures and marble effigies of Ferdinand I, his wife Anna Jagellonská and their son Maximilián II.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

After exploring Prague Castle and the Lesser Quarter by day and by night, we made our way north of our hotel to the Old Town for more Christmas markets, tourist attractions and beer. But before leaving that side of the river, we popped into an old book shop. I bought a second-hand biography about Irish playwright Bernard Shaw and we discovered a book about Ottawa – where my friend and I once lived. Talk about serendipity!

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

Wait – did I tell you they have trams? Not only are the sidewalks cute, the transportation options are too. It’s a pedestrian’s dream city.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

We stopped at the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock to try to interpret its’ meaning.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

After a failed attempt, we went shopping for souvenirs.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

I bought a few handmade wooden Christmas tree ornaments and gifts for family in Canada while sipping on mulled wine, then we headed to local brewpub, U Tří růží.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

We spent the last day exploring the New Town east of our hotel and look what we found – more daytime Christmas markets! After purchasing last minute gifts, we went in search of a good coffee. Yes that’s right, four days in and we had our fill of Czech beer. I also had to get on a flight to Dublin that afternoon…not that it would have been much of a problem by the looks of some fellow passengers.

Notes From Another Land - Prague City, Czech Republic

Let me leave you with a final feel-good photo from the Czech Republic. We found a lovely little two-storey coffee shop which proudly served the elusive flat white, Anonymous Coffee. I introduced my friend to her first barista coffee of the flat white variety and we played fetch with a local patron’s Boston Terrier while relaxing on their swinging bench seat. I’ve been wanting a dog for some time, love coffee (and swings), so this place was just the thing to top off our visit to Prague.

Yep, Euro trips, fancy buildings and cobblestone streets aside, it doesn’t take much to please this wandering expat!

Next up: another photo essay of our New Year’s trip to the artsy seaside city of Barcelona.

Observing small differences between Canada and Ireland

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I’m feeling philosophical after my visit to our local pub last night. So, here are a few points of difference between Ireland and Canada, one year in as an expat on the Emerald Isle.

I still can’t bring myself to adopt the phrase, “thanks a million” or “thanks a mill”. Especially when everyone here says it so deadpan, without a smile. I prefer to hold on strong to my overly polite Canadian with a grin, “thanks so much”.

Opening doors and getting said thanks. In Canada, you often get “sorry” and “thank you” as a knee jerk reaction. It’s part of our DNA, we just can’t help it. Only when you venture to the big city do you experience doors in your face and thankless gestures, or at least you did five years ago from my memory! I’m not saying we’re perfect as a nation but my eager to please Canadian heart breaks a little every time someone doesn’t acknowledge a kind stranger, especially in the countryside or my small town in Ireland.

Conspiracy theory: perhaps someone filled them in on the fact I don’t use “thanks a million”.

And a final word on snow. I’m used to lots of it in winter. The kind that sticks around. Cakes onto your tires, ruins your new leather boots, soaks through your pant legs where your previously dry socks were keeping you nice and toasty. Over here in Ireland, I didn’t experience any snow last year. That all changed this year, as the big, fluffy flakes started sweeping in to replace our winter rain. It was mayhem! Kids screamed, then gleefully played in the snow. Adults opened their umbrellas, running into the shops. Drove at a snails pace in their cars and complained about the bad roads.

I went outside for a walk.

Call me childish or Canadian, but when all was said and done, it melted within a few hours. Luckily I was able to document the odd sight (to me) of snow on green grass, before it disappeared.

You can view the video (and other photos and travel inspiration) on my new Facebook Page here!

Remembering 2014

“He is the happiest man who can set the end of his life in connection with the beginning.”
– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Ireland, New Year, expat, travel, adventure, foreigner

2014 was a year of firsts for me. My first move to Ireland. My first Irish job. My first visits to Germany, Scotland, Belgium, St. John’s and the Czech Republic. Followed closely by my first Irish funeral and first Irish Christmas, both in the same week.

Sadly, a member of our family passed away during the holidays. As you know from my previous post, we had been spending the past few months going back and forth between Galway and Kildare to be with them.

If you asked me why we were leaving Australia to move to Ireland at the start of 2014, I would have told you it was to travel and be closer to our families and friends. By the end of this year, we had done our fair share of travelling but it’s the moments spent with our loved ones that have stuck with me. Because of our move, I was able to visit Canada four (4!) times in one year and my parents were able to take their second Irish vacation.

We started the year off in Galway, living with the in-laws before making the move to Kildare. That first month was the best form we got to see our loved one in during 2014. They would pop over for tea, have a quick visit and bring us the papers. Our weekend trips to the West to catch up with family wouldn’t have been possible if we were still living Down Under.

As I’ve been working remotely and the husband’s work has been so flexible, we were also able to spend the past three months commuting across the country. Time is precious and those moments we spent in Galway will never be forgotten. He passed surrounded by everyone he loved, just as he would have wanted, a life lived full circle. And we were able to be there with him.

I do have travel updates to fill you in on and photos to share but right now I just want to share this one. We went for a walk in the woods, up the small ‘mountain’ near my husband’s farm after Christmas, before New Year’s Eve. In a year of ups and downs, a hillside hike seemed fitting. I wanted to think happy thoughts about what the future and 2015 may hold for us. To get some fresh winter air, rare sunshine and remember all of those moments before ringing in a New Year, new beginnings and experiences.

Happy New Year to you all and only best wishes for 2015.

One of them

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When I last came through Irish Customs after my trip to Newfoundland in October, the officer took a look at my passport and residency card and said, “Ah, you’re one of us for a while.”

It made me smile. It was the first cheery response I’d had during my time in Ireland so far. Other officers had asked why I came back after being in Canada and one of them poked fun at the fact I was working for a boring old state organisation. But this guy made me think, yes I am one of you for a while.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve tried to adapt to life in a small rural town outside Dublin, faced a few red tape dramas and worked with an Irish company that has been around for 80+ years and is a household name. I’ve hosted a Paddy’s Day weekend complete with a roast dinner, watched Brian O’Driscoll play his last home game and attended networking events where I met some of the people who are giving entrepreneurship a fair go on the Emerald Isle.

This past month I’ve spent the majority of my time in Galway as we have an ill family member. I’ve been back to cafe hopping to work remotely in between hospital visits, while I try to ward off the damp and wet Atlantic weather. To top it all off, our car engine seized one day while we made our way to the hospital. We bought it in March and without warning one morning, it just spluttered and stopped. So we pushed it to the side of the road and started walking up the N17 in the sideways rain, hailing a bus after 40 minutes, soaking wet. We are back on the public transit bandwagon again, just in time for winter!

It’s been a challenging four weeks to say the least. But something funny has happened along the way. With all of the time we’ve been spending in Galway, the hubby was able to help his brother get started on building a fence and finishing up a few jobs around his house. I’ve gotten to catch up with our relatives down the road, as you can’t go for a walk without popping in at houses along the way. We’ve taken walks around Salthill where we were married, trying to clear our heads with the view. Both of our work colleagues have been more than understanding, enabling us to work flexible hours and offering support whenever they can. And the hospital staff have been friendly and accommodating, never enforcing strict visiting times. I can’t count on both hands how many offers of assistance the family has had.

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As we head towards the holiday season and the start of another year, it’s made us contemplate our time in Ireland and what the future may hold. This past year has had its ups and downs, with us missing our life and friends in Brisbane and the tropical climate. But looking back, if we were in Australia we would have missed out on so many moments with family and friends in Ireland and Canada. These things have always been important to us but an illness puts a different focus on elements and events that seemed insignificant before.

I may not be Irish, fully integrated into society or quite settled yet, but I am proud to be one of them for a while.